|Justin's Excellent Adventure
||[Mar. 29th, 2007|10:47 pm]
JEA Chapters I-III|
“I’ll have to think about it.”
I could tell that Brian was really bothered by my response to his asking me to move back into the loft with him. He hesitated, and bit the flesh inside the lower lip, a way of stopping the words from coming out before he’s thought about them. He thinks no one notices that, but I do; the lower lip slightly thins, and the skin just beneath his mouth indents slightly inward. Sometimes I wonder how much he hurts himself by biting down there. I’ve kissed him after one or two of these wordless self-mutilations, and tasted blood. I wish he wouldn’t do that. I wish there was a way I could let him know that he’s hurting himself a lot more than he would ever hurt anyone else by policing his immediate response, his natural emotional reaction, in that way. But Brian needs to figure out things for himself.
God knows I've always had faith in him. He’s so fucking amazing, so fucking strong, and so fucking smart about everything else. But the idea that he may never transcend the emotional limitations that have been imposed on him, that are not a natural part of his character, the real doubt that’s begun to creep over me, well, it’s been like a snake coiling just under my ribs, where my heart beats. I don’t know if Brian, as he is now, the slow progress he’s been making, if that’s going to be enough in the long run for me. For us.
“I’ll have to think about it,” I say. And he bites that part of his flesh inside his mouth, and something changes in his eyes. They were so vulnerable, and it seriously made me hate the position I was in, having to put him off. I hadn’t expected this, though – I’d practically been living in the loft as it was. Eventually I would have moved in without either of us acknowledging the change in my status.
Oh, I can imagine that conversation.
“That’s not a very sunny expression,” he would say upon arriving into the loft after work, coming to kiss me as I frowned over ads in the Pittsburgh rentals on line.
“Yeah,” I’d say, “Daphne’s giving up her lease with the end of the school year. So I need to find a new place to stay.”
“When’s this happening?” he’d say.
“Uh… three days.” I’m crafty like that. "I guess I procrastinated a little bit." Right.
He’s onto me, of course. But then, it suits his own purposes, so he'd answer with something like, “Well, I suppose you could stay here while you look.”
So I’d haul my crap over, pretend to look up roommates and other places to live, and stay with him until we got into another fight, and then I’d find somewhere to move and he’d let me. Or, more likely, he'd kick me out himself.
That’s what I had expected. I had learned not to expect much from our relationship. I was starting to hate that.
I always have wanted the acknowledgement, the proof he cares about me. And here it is, in Brian’s way. He wants me to move in with him, he’s actually asking me instead of just letting things take care of themselves.
His request took me by surprise.
When I was out at Brett’s place, and Brett asked about my “extra-marital” activities, I could feel my heart flutter, just a little, just enough to let me know damn well how much I love other people assuming Brian and I have that level of commitment. And the response I gave, the usual blather about being together because we want to be, not because we have to be… nobody forces anyone to get married, do they? It’s a choice. So’s divorce, and they are equally viable options. You do them because you want to, not because you have to.
See? It’s just plain logic. So Brian’s position is complete rhetorical bullshit, illogical. There are no locks on marriage doors.
But language is a form of denying his real feelings, which he doesn’t trust. Take how he asked me to move back in with him. There he was, saying he’d do things differently. And just when I hoped he’d say he’d do me, do us, differently, make some sort of declaration. There I was, heart fluttering. And then he starts talking about redecorating the bedroom. God, I am such an idiot. What did I expect?
It’s so totally him, and I know that - but at that moment I wasn’t sure if I wanted to scream in frustration or just punch myself in the head. The whole thing about Gus, of course he meant a lot more than teaching the kid how to dress, and same as when he finally asked me to move back in – burying the one thing I wanted to hear beneath everything else, socks for God’s sake… I wouldn’t mind if you were around. How… yeah, I know, I’m not supposed to use the word, even in the negative. But there it is. How unromantic. As Brett commented on the bullshit spiel I spouted out, like some Kinney-fucked, Kinney-trained monkey, “How Rageian.” And he’s right. Those are Brian’s words. Not mine. Why do I want so much more?
And the thing that kills me is, I should know better than to expect any more than that. As I said when we got back together, I know what to expect. And I don’t expect more than that from him.
I just want more.
So I asked him, are you proposing? I realized, right then, damn it, how much more I do want. I do. His response, swift, brutal, "of course not" – I didn’t want him to see my expression. I pretended to rub my eyes, putting my hands over my face. Of course not.
And so I put off telling him about accepting Brett’s offer to work with him. I’ll have to tell him, soon enough. Michael will find out as soon as he talks to Brett, which mean Brian will find out. So I have to tell him first, soon.
I know exactly how that conversation will go. I know what to expect.
“Hey, Brian, well, Brett’s given me this really great offer to go out to work on the movie as assistant art director.”
“Oh?” He’ll look at me, just watching, waiting.
“Yeah, actually, and… I told him I’d do it.”
“What about school?”
He would bring that up, that fucking bet. I’ll answer, “It’s just, this is such a great opportunity, think of how it’ll look on my resume!” Something Brian would be sure to understand, professional ambition. “And I can re-enroll at the Institute when the movie’s done. It’ll only be six months or so. I’ll be back in time for fall classes. And then I'll move in here, with you.” By that time, I'll have sidled up to him, probably rubbing something of his with something of mine. Doesn't matter what.
He’ll pause, watching me. Then that slow nod, and he’ll bite the soft, tender flesh just beneath his lower lip, already having made up his mind that I won’t be coming back.
I’ll want to yell at him, “Give me more! More than that fucking ‘I wouldn’t mind having you around,’ more than 'of course not' when I ask if you're proposing! Something, anything! I know this is huge for you, asking me to move in, but I’ve compromised myself for you, changed myself for you, never ask for flowers, am happy as shit when we end up actually eating Chinese food on the floor even if we never do call it a floor picnic, I accept the crumbs I get and right now I could use a crumb to think you would put up more of a fight than just tossing me off at the first counter offer I get to what you offer me! This isn’t Ian all over, is it? Before, romance, this time, job – it’s always going to be something, and I would give it all up in a heart beat if you just…”
I can hear the speech echo in my head. How many times has it played, different version, but basically the same speech, the same fucking humiliating, prideless plea, please, Brian, god, please take a leap of faith and help me out here, help us out here, compromise your rigid fucking illogical terror of emotional commitment and just once trust yourself enough, trust us enough to just tell me you love me, tell me you want me to stay! I’ve heard the echoes of this speech while riding the bus, working at the diner, waiting for classes to begin, babysitting Gus… everywhere. Bouncing around in my head.
My mom has told me, and I know she’s right. No one changes for anyone else. They change because they have to. But I know that’s not true – I’ve changed for Brian.
Only, have I? Essentially, have I changed, has my desire for Brian's feelings to come out in some sort of declaration, has that changed?
Oh fuck, fuck, fuck me, I am so fucked here.
I know it would hurt him if I left. I don’t need that kind of proof anymore. And don’t get me wrong – I know how big the request I move into the loft is. But would he have made it if he had known about the counter offer I had received just the day before from Brett? I seriously doubt it. He would have tossed me off in a second. Brett’s better for you, the movie’s better for you, everything’s better for you than I am.
He has to stop doing that to me. He needs to stop doing that to us.
I want him to just get it – that what he offers me, his love, the community, the family I have here, is valuable, it’s important. I want him to have faith in what we have here, and I need the words that show he gets it, that he has faith not just in me, but in us. The real problem, of course, is that he needs to always be proving himself, because he doesn’t really trust himself, he doesn’t really have a great deal of faith in himself. So how can he count on us, when he’s part of that? So we need to keep proving, over and over, that “we” are reliable, important.
And I’m just so fucking tired of it. Because I’m a part of us too. And it feels like I have to keep fighting him.
I know not to expect it, but I want him to tell me he loves me. I want to think he would ask me into the loft, into his life, if he knew about the other offer I have. I want to believe that he believes in what’s between us. I want the words to be there in the air between us, binding us together in a way that two bodies can’t, unless they’re making love. Even we can’t be in each other all the time. Fucking always ends at some point. Words, once they’re out there – they’re always there, in memory if nowhere else.
That’s what marriage is. It’s the words, “performatives,” they’re called. Words that actually perform action. The speech makes whatever you’re saying so. “I do,” and you’re married. Special words, they're not just bullshit.
I know I’m expecting too much.
But I know what I want.
“He asked you to move in with him?” Daphne asked her sometimes-roommate, who leaned against the foot of the couch, and accepted the pint of Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream, handing off the Cherry Garcia. Weird combination, but it worked. And God knew, only two pints would do for this discussion.
“Yeah, can you believe it?” Justin answered, sucking in the pink ice cream.
“And you said…”
“That I’d think about it.”
Daphne paused, looked up from her spoon’s digging around a chunk of Heath. “What do you mean, you’d think about it?”
“Well, I am your roommate, just moving out suddenly would be kind of rude…”
Daphne snorted. “Yeah, right. What’s the real reason?”
Sometimes it sucked, having a friend who knew him that well. Though it definitely saved time. And not having to defend himself, explain, backpedal, evade, say one thing while working his way to a seemingly unrelated point… and he could tell Daphne anything and not worry about it getting to sources he’d rather keep it from. “Um, well, Brett offered me a job. Assistant art director on Rage, the movie.”
“Holy shit!” Daphne stared, wide eyed. “Wow! So, what, you’d like, move to California?”
“Just for a few months. Well, sixish.” Or eight. Or more, Justin had heard about movie schedules, he wasn’t an idiot.
Daphne reached for the Cherry Garcia, handed off the Heath Bar Crunch. “So, what? What did Brian say when you told him about that?”
“Uh, well. I haven’t yet.”
Daphne stared at Justin. She said nothing. Waited.
Justin stared back. Then he stood abruptly, avoiding her stare, walked over to his coat, took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket.
“Hey, don’t smoke that shit in here,” Daphne said. Justin just raised an eyebrow, withdrew a joint from the pack, waved it at her. “Oh,” she said, a smile lighting up her face. “Okay, that’s okay.”
“Yeah, I know,” Justin said, lighting up. He puffed on it, walked back, draped himself on his back on the couch, handed the joint to her. “I think we did this wrong, should be joint first, ice cream second.”
Daphne shrugged. “We still have Dove bars and Hagan Daz Crème de Leche in the freezer.”
“Salt and Vinegar and barbecue. You said you had a Brian crisis, I happened to be shopping when you called."
"I said I had a personal crisis, not a Brian crisis."
"There's a difference?"
"Yeah, anyway. Figured we’d need all this to fill the void.” She gestured at him with the bag of chips.
“You are the best. When you aren't the worst. Did you get…”
“Two six packs of Molson and a bottle of Stoly.”
“Molson? We’re flush this week?”
“Got a check from home. I know you detest Budweiser, and if you’re going to pull the drama princess thing, the least I can do is supply the proper drinks. Hang on.” Daphne handed back the joint, walked to the kitchen and came back with two beers and the bags of chips. She sat down on the floor, and turned a scowl onto Justin. “Okay, now tell me why you’re being a complete moron and not talking to Brian about this?”
“I’m not being a moron, I just don’t know what to do.”
“You’re being a moron.”
“If I had told him about the job, he wouldn’t have asked me to move in with him in the first place.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Sure I do. He’d tell me it sounded like what I wanted, good career move if that’s what I wanted, he wouldn’t hold me back from what I wanted, blah de blah blah blah. Everything else is so good for me to experience, except him. It’s never about what he wants. It’s never about us.”
“He wants you to move in with him,” Daphne pointed out.
“Yeah, as long as he thinks I was a sure bet to say yes.”
Daphne sighed, but Justin was steaming up to full rant mode. “You’d think he’d stick out his neck for us just once, but it’s like, he expects me to be him at that age. And even he’s not himself at that age anymore, so why should I be? He thinks I should fuck everyone else and take care of my own needs, even at his, even at our expense, just all out into an early brilliant career and fuck anyone who gets in the way, never more than once of course… so he still doesn’t really believe I’m really interested in being in a RELATIONSHIP, and fuck it if I won’t use the word. I can’t seem to figure out a way to make him hear me when I try to tell him in so many words: Brian, I am not you!”
Daphne washed down a salt and vinegar chip with her beer. They exchanged bags. “You’re both morons,” she declared, taking a final toke off the joint and passing it to Justin, who stubbed it out in the ashtray.
“Uh… there’s one other problem.”
“I kinda told Brett I wanted the job. And I’d be coming back. To Hollywood. For the job. I kinda said yes.”
Daphne stared at him, biting back her initial response, deciding instead to lull him in before letting him have it. “Really. Why?”
Justin sighed. “I don’t know, really. Well, I do. It really is a great opportunity. And… I guess I was on kind of a high, I mean, just getting in from fucking Conor James…”
“YOU FUCKED CONOR JAMES??!!!”
Justin giggled at her reaction. He had been looking forward to springing that on her.
“HE’S GAY??!!!” She stopped, scowled at him. “Oh, fuck you, Justin, you’re only trying to distract me.”
Damn, so close, but worth another shot. “Yup, he’s gay, and yup, he likes to take it up the…”
“Stop!! Stop, stop! Okay, I get it, you’ve sufficiently crushed another illusion. Of course he’s gay, I was far too attracted for him to be straight.” She shook herself, got back on point. “Doesn’t matter anyway, a buzz from fucking a celebrity is no excuse. You want to try explaining the real reason you didn’t discuss a major life decision with your life partner before making that big a commitment to a job across country?
“I don’t know if we are. Life partners.” The giggling had stopped. Back to maudlin.
Daphne grabbed a handful of barbecued chips. “Oh, please. Frankly, I’m surprised you and Brian haven’t killed each other yet, but I’m getting close to doing it for you.” She took a long swallow of beer. “Which do you want, your relationship or Hollywood?”
“It’s not that simple,” Justin replied.
“Because,” he glared at her, “He tosses me out of his life like every other week. He won’t open up to me when major life shit like, oh say, cancer? happens. And lately, it seems we’ve been apart way more than we’ve been together. I mean, we’ll mention vacations but never actually take them – and I say mention because I can’t remember the last time we actually talked, the only quality time we’ve spent together in the last, what, months? was competing for a trick, and then, when Brian actually did get back on his feet, he was training for the ride.”
“And you wish he were… riding you?”
“Uh, no that’s fine. But maybe communicating?”
Daphne continued, “C’mon, you know how Brian is. It’s easier for him to just fall back into himself when things get nuts. He resists the Vulcan mind meld thing.”
“You’re such a geek, Ms. Spock.”
“Well, you know the reference, what does that make you?” Daphne stuck her tongue out at him. “Besides, who’s not communicating? So what, are you going to fix this by running away? Again, I might add? But, I guess that’d show him.”
Justin froze as his glare turned into something more like dismay. Then he slumped, and closed his eyes. “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck a duck.”
“Really. A duck. Is that your latest thing?”
“Fine, fuck you, Daphne.”
“Nope, nobody twice except Brian, remember?” She stopped teasing. “You have to tell him. Seriously, Justin.”
“Yeah, I know. But I don’t want him to think I’m running away from him. I’m not. I mean… I just need some space to figure out how I feel. It’s like, I’ve just felt kind of, blah lately.”
“You seem more, I don’t know, confused. Maybe, angry?”
Justin’s eyes popped open. He didn’t deny it. But he just shrugged. “So what do I do? How do I tell him about this job without him thinking I’m leaving him?”
“You’re going to have to just tell him and encourage him to respond with more than his tongue down your throat. But hey! that’s probably a good place to start. He’s more likely to feel, um, charitable toward your side of things if you, you know, soften him up first, get him in the mood he likes to be in.”
Justin smirked. “Believe me, Brian doesn’t soften up in those moods.”
Daphne rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, I don’t mean physically, I mean when he’s more receptive to suggestion, to your side of things. Like, emotionally, sort of, you know, rub up on him, tell him when he’s feeling, um…”
“Hot? Use my seductive powers?”
“Yeah, when he’s less likely to rip your head off… DON’T,” she warned, seeing the teasing glanced slanted her way at that last bit.
“Fine, but you,” Justin said, “are one sneaky ass bitch.”
Daphne beamed brightly. “Yeah! That’s why you talk to me, we do good battle strategy.”
“Call you General Chanders.”
“Heh heh… I like ‘sneaky ass bitch’ better. Is it time for vodka?”
“Unfortunately, I think you’re right. I’d better go tell Brian what’s up.” Justin stood, grabbed his coat and bag. “If Michael talks to Brett before I talk to Brian, this’ll be very bad for me.”
“Ugh, don’t give me any mental pictures.”
“He’s an asshole,” Daphne clarified.
“Not helping…” Justin teased, shrugging into his coat.
She growled in frustration. “Fine! You and Brian may be morons, but Michael is dumb as dirt! He has no clue! He thinks he’s protecting Brian but he’s only protecting something of his own that doesn’t even exist, if it ever did, a fantasy relationship he made up for himself that doesn’t help anyone, not even Michael, which he would realize if he weren’t as thick as a post! And he needs to hold his utensils like an adult, not a four-year old!”
Justin tried not to laugh at the pleasure of having a friend who was totally on his side. “Daphne!”
She scowled. “Fine, go talk to Brian before Michael gets to him. But Justin…”
Justin turned, his hand on the door.
“Brian loves you, maybe not as much as I do. Just don’t forget that he really does love you.”
Justin’s smile faded as he walked out.
In the apartment, Daphne went to put the vodka in the freezer so it would be cold when Justin returned, in tears more likely than not. She sighed. They really were a couple of idiots.
Justin really did mean to go home and talk to Brian. But instead, he found himself entering the diner, sliding into an empty booth. He had been on the way to the loft, when he realized he was enjoying the sun on his face a little too much, the way the early spring breeze lifted his hair, caressed his cheek. And he wasn’t thinking much of anything, just feeling a winding tension in the pit of his stomach. Must be hunger, he told himself. Or dread. Shit. He couldn’t figure it out. He just ate a ton of crap at Daphne’s. And he wasn’t exactly dreading the conversation with Brian. It was just his future life. He had two good choices in front of him. Really. All good. Wasn’t that it? What exactly, how exactly should he approach this? What was his objective? He had to be prepared… but with this buzz on, he really couldn’t think clearly. Damn, a cup of coffee would help. And then he found himself in front of the diner. He wasn’t procrastinating. Really.
“What can I get you, honey?” Kiki was there, her pen poised over the pad.
“Just coffee, Kiki.” Across the diner, Deb waved at him. The place was mostly empty. He glanced at the clock. The crowds would descend soon enough for the dinner rush. Brian would be home, working. Waiting. Pretending he wasn’t.
“Here you go, sweetie” Kiki had returned, and was sliding the cup of coffee in front of him.
“Thanks,” he breathed, picking up the cup and drinking it black, gulping at it, almost scalding his tongue. But the caffeine began its work by the time he had finished it; he felt that he could almost think. One more cup while he did not procrastinate. He looked up to find Kiki, or Debbie, someone walking around with a pot of coffee, wasn’t someone always walking around with a pot of coffee? Shit, he had to get rid of this floating, disconnected feeling. He gestured at Kiki, held up his cup. She nodded at him. He turned his body back into the booth.
And his gaze collided with a pair of brown, almost black eyes. Oh, fuck, he really didn’t need this, Michael, sliding into the booth across from him. And he had a dark scowl on his face as he shook his head. Justin tensed.
“So,” Michael drawled. “I just talked to Brett…”
Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!
Justin felt it then, part of Brian’s legacy to him, what he personally called the “Kinney calm” settle over him. It was weird. Before, when he had watched that carefully blank look settle onto Brian’s face, he assumed it was because Brian knew exactly what he was doing and did not have time or patience for the idiot standing in front of him, wasting his time. The look conveyed sheer contempt for the preposterous presumption of whomever stood there, questioning Brian Fucking Kinney. Justin hated that look turned on him; it made him feel insignificant, as if he had no right to his own point whatsoever. It made him feel like an insect, scurrying about beneath the devastating gaze like a boot raised above him, ready to descend, crushing.
Then, one night not too long ago, they had been at the bar in Woody’s, when he had been approached by a former classmate from PIFA who had spent the last term in Italy.
“Hey, Justin! How’s it hanging? You and Ethan still together?”
Justin froze, feeling a sudden tightness in his gut, a wave of confusion and uncertainty crashing over him. He liked this guy standing in front of him, this kid just waiting for a reply, smile of greeting fading as he watched Justin’s face and began to realize he’d said the wrong thing. At that moment, Justin had no idea how to answer him, his brain freezing on him as the factors needed to calculate the consequences of his responses were just too varied to allow for a split second decision, especially not a casual reply. He and Brian were sitting on the bar stools, lower legs casually entwined. It hadn’t helped that Brian’s calf had jumped and then went still, pressing Justin’s bone, hard, into the leg of his stool. He had no idea how to respond. Ethan was a taboo subject. They never talked about it. Never never never. And there was this kid standing in front of him, waiting for Justin’s reply. He couldn’t blush, couldn’t let Brian see how agitated he was, sure as shit couldn’t let this kid see how agitated he was. And suddenly, like a flash, this understanding that he didn’t have to react, he could just not react at all. Sheer will, he willed it all down into a tiny little place in the pit of his stomach, and leaned back against Brian’s side. Felt that icy calm fall down over him. “No,” he’d answered the kid, nothing more. Waited. Fuck off, I can’t handle this, Justin thought, hearing a wild screaming laugh echoing deep in his gut but way down inside. Not a ripple on the surface. Just a stare.
“Oh,” the kid had answered, as Brian’s arm snaked around Justin’s waist, pulled him in closer. “Oh!” He stared at Brian for a second. “Well, then, uh… see you ‘round.” The kid had fled.
Justin turned to face front, Brian’s hand dropping into his lap, fingers curling over his junk. Comfort? Ownership? Fuck if he knew. As he’d raised his beer, Justin had caught a glimpse of his own pale face in the mirror behind the bar. His and Brian’s, both with identical casts of That Look, the classic Kinney calm. Brian's eye caught Justin’s in the reflection. And then Justin knew. That look that had always infuriated him so, that he thought was a way of annihilating the person on the receiving end, annihilating him, that wasn’t it at all. Instead of a sign of utter control, it was just a cover for the complete opposite, vulnerable uncertainty in exactly how to proceed. Knowledge that his own immediate emotional reaction was probably way out of proportion to what he was faced with. Had much more to do with throwing up a big wall around his own fucked up shit than the person on the receiving end.
You’d think he’d have figured all this out before that moment. But wasn’t that typical Sunshine, had to figure out everything by experience. No wonder his life was so fucked up.
That particular blank stare sure as hell proved useful, though. For instance, right now, staring down Michael as Debbie took over Kiki’s table, since Michael had shown up.
“More coffee, Deb? Please,” Justin asked, wondering if he was going to get to drink it.
“Usual, Ma,” Michael said, absently wiping away the lipstick she left behind on his cheek. He stared at Justin, saw that look that made Justin appear to be channeling his lover. That look that never failed to infuriate him. The look making clear that Michael had no clue. Bad enough when it came from Brian. Showing up on Justin’s face, though…
Not that it made any difference. This time, Michael had a more concrete reason to be infuriated, besides the fact that his best friend and Justin seemed to be turning into another entity altogether, not Brian and Justin, but a singular Them. Michael didn't have enough perspective to say that his antipathy was irrational, but he did understand that it was like an insect biting under his skin, in an area he couldn’t reach. He only knew it irritated the fuck out of him, and there was nothing he could do about it. He had gotten used to the constant sting. But that did not mean it had gone away.
However, this latest situation, that he could actually address.
“Does he know yet?” Michael asked.
Of course, Justin did not need to ask who “he” was. “Michael…”
“I guess that means no. Were you planning to tell him before you left? or were you going to let him figure it out on his own? Again?”
“Tell who what?” Ben asked, sliding into the seat next to Michael.
“Justin has accepted Brett’s offer to be assistant art director on the movie.”
“Wow! Great opportunity, Justin!”
“No shit?” Deb asked, filling up Justin’s coffee cup, and patting him on the cheek with her free hand.
“No, no!” Justin exclaimed, pulling away. Damn it, That Look only worked on one person at a time. And now three people knew, before Brian did? Debbie, for god’s sake? Shit! “It’s actually… well, I did tell him I wanted to do it, but… it’s complicated.” He was not going to tell them Brian’s offer to move into the loft made things a lot more confusing. His head was clearing. He took a gulp of coffee. Why, oh why hadn’t he told Brett not to tell Michael? Oh, yeah, he didn’t want Brett to think he was having second thoughts, that he wasn’t thrilled about the job. And, damn it, why shouldn’t he be thrilled?
Brian, that’s why. Always Brian. Whether that was good or bad made no difference. It was simple fact.
“So you didn’t accept the offer?” Ben asked.
They all stared at him. Justin sipped on his coffee. “I haven’t talked to Brian yet.”
“Ah,” Debbie said, her voice filled with an understanding that she didn’t really have.
“You might want to do that,” Michael stated, staring at him.
Ben turned his level gaze from Justin to Michael.
Justin responded, “I didn’t think Brett would say anything to you. I was planning to talk to Brian before making any announcement to anyone else…” Justin didn’t want to explain this much, but he needed them to understand why it was important they leave him alone to handle this, to not interfere.
“So you’ve already decided. Gonna run off then?”
Ben interrupted. “Michael, maybe we might want to ask Justin about this before you jump to conclusions. What’s the story, Justin?”
He liked Ben, he really did, but he wasn’t prepared to go into it at the moment. “It’s a movie, so it’s a limited period of time. I’m not running anywhere.” Glare, real glare at Michael.
“If you don’t just stay, bright lights, big city,” Michael grumbled, attempting a joke to hide the real thrust of his words.
“How long?” Debbie asked.
“Few months,” Justin answered.
“More like eight,” Michael ground out, tossing in a glare of his own for good measure.
Damn it, damn it! What exactly had Brett told Mikey anyway? “Look, I was actually on my way to talk to Brian about this, so I would appreciate it, if you all would just let me work this out, okay?”
Debbie and Ben nodded. Michael’s eyes narrowed. “You got 24 hours to tell him, JT,” Michael said. “If you haven’t, I will.”
“Whatever, Michael,” Justin tossed over his shoulder on his way out, his coffee left behind, undrunk.
Michael turned back to the table, and found his mother and husband staring at him. “What?”
Debbie just sighed in disgust and turned away. Ben tried harder; he did have to live with the guy. “Maybe you should follow Justin’s advice, just leave it alone.”
“Oh, yeah, sure, that’ll work. I’ve seen the way they’ve worked it out. The last time Justin was left alone to work it out on his own, Brian almost drank himself to death.”
“Yeah, I know, I was there, remember? Brian can take care of himself. I don’t want you to disappear into Kinney Land again.”
“Want to protect Brian from the forces of evil? I think he’s got it handled.”
“Yeah, well, Brian acts all tough, but…”
“He is tough.”
“Jesus, Ben, is this how it’s going to be?”
“How what’s going to be?”
Debbie came back with a hamburger platter, which she placed in front of Michael, and a bowl of Wheaties for Ben. He turned his automatic grimace into a smile, and thanked her. He’d been more in the mood for salad. Gotta humor the mom-in-law. What a difference in her attitude from the first few months he was dating her son. “Can I get a side salad, too, Deb?” She nodded, but waited.
Michael did not disappoint her need to be involved. “This whole marriage thing, you going to interrupt me and start telling me what to do all the time?”
Ben stared back, considering how to respond. This was not the time or place for this discussion, though he knew Debbie would back him up. He had more tact than to remind Michael that a marriage was between two men, not three, in front of his mother. And Michael, while he had gone through with marrying him, had immediately started to question the validity of the entire ceremony. Ben knew that second guessing himself, wondering if they should have had a long engagement first, did no good now. He glanced over at Debbie, and threw her a smile. “Of course not,” Ben soothed, shelving the conversation for later. Debbie just shook her head.
Justin pulled open the loft door, and headed toward the kitchen, placing the Starbucks bag on the counter and opening it to take out the two cups of latte, fully loaded for him, skim milk decaf for Brian. Soften him up, Daphne had said. That hadn’t been the reason he’d picked up two cups instead of just one for himself. But bringing Brian his favorite drink (well, after any number of alcoholic beverages, guava juice, and water), such consideration sure couldn’t hurt. He glanced over at the computer desk. Brian was watching him. Justin headed over with the coffee in his hand. “Hey,” Brian said as he approached.
“Working?” Dumb question. It may be Saturday afternoon, but Brian worked all the time. At least he got to wear his comfortable clothes, black tank, jeans, when he worked Saturday afternoons at home. As Justin walked toward him, he shoved back from the desk, lifted his arms to stretch his back. Wow, Justin thought, his gaze traveling the line of Brian’s jaw as his head leaned back to flex and crack his cervical spine. The odd tension in his stomach turned to something much more familiar. He waited for Brian to drop his arms, and leaned down to kiss him, capturing his lover’s lips in his, allowing the kiss to convey that strong feeling behind it. He pulled back, and they smiled at each other.
“I got you a latte,” Justin said, handing him the coffee. Brian nodded his thanks, brought the drink to his lips. Justin added, “Decaf, skim milk.”
Brian took a long swallow, sighing in appreciation. “Of course it is.” Justin knew him, what he wanted. Brian knew anything Justin handed him would be just right. “I took down the light over the bed,” Brian added, his voice casual. Took another sip of the coffee. Looked back at the computer. Glanced up at Justin’s face, then back at the computer.
The tone held… what? Justin decided to investigate this before starting the talk they needed to have. He wasn’t procrastinating, really. But clearly, Brian wanted his opinion, even if he would never ask for it. That last glance, no smirk, no seductive softening of the mouth, that last look had been… uncertain. That was it. Justin didn’t get to see that look very often.
He mounted the steps to the bedroom, and stopped on the threshold. His art, one of his final projects before he had been kicked out of school, hung over the bed. It had been computer-generated, the apotheosis of his attempt to represent harmonious balance on a discordant visual field. The assignment had asked for a landscape, and Justin had drawn inspiration from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” so a dark, mechanical urban landscape formed the background of this piece. Blues, greys, blacks – and then a thin beam of white light with a bare suggestion of brilliant yellow exploding upward into that dark sky as in the distance, from far off in the heart of the city and of the painting, a bare bit of brightness that brought the entire landscape into balance around that central beacon, small and receded in distance as it was. Justin loved this project, not only because he had gotten an A for it – the formal element of the dark buildings unsettled the composition even as that single shot of light restored the visual field into balance. The professor had said it was disturbing and soothing at once. Justin loved the fact that the other students had felt compelled to try and tell the “story” of the light that strained toward the sky. The story, to Justin, was completely beside the point. The fact that people felt a personal connection to it was far more relevant.
The piece looked absolutely perfect in its place over the bed. He looked at it, reabsorbing its impact, again unable to believe that it had come out of him. He always felt that way about his art. It seemed bigger than he was, and that strangeness continually struck him, the oddness that he had produced something so amazing. He was about to turn back to the main part of the loft to let Brian know his approval, when his gaze skimmed the wall over the dresser. And the sketch hanging on the wall there. He froze, stunned. He hadn’t seen that sketch in over two years. Brian, asleep, naked in bed. His first show, his first sale. Brian had it, all along. Holy shit.
He felt the arm move around his chest, and he leaned back into Brian’s warm body. Felt the soft lips press on his neck. “You like?” Hands, moving onto his stomach, tugging up his shirt.
Justin turned around. Brian rested his forearms on his shoulders. His eyes were closed.
Justin sat on the bed, so abruptly he practically fell out of Brian’s embrace. Brian’s eyes popped open, surprised, then he followed Justin’s gaze, which still fixed on the sketch. He sat down on the bed, next to Justin’s hip. Rested his chin on Justin’s shoulder. Sighed. Waited.
Justin tried to pull his thoughts together. He could have said any number of things. He finally settled on, “Why… why did you buy it? I mean, back then?”
Brian shrugged. He kept his lips busy, licked at the pulse at the base of Justin’s neck. Justin shuddered; that never failed to send signals screaming straight to his dick. “Brian…”
“I wanted it.”
Justin almost smiled. Duh, he thought. Such a predictable response. He could pursue that later. For now…
“We need to talk.” Hand moving up his thigh, making him want to put off this conversation. No, no, no, he’d procrastinated enough. He slipped his palm against Brian’s, entwined their fingers, lifted the hand off his thigh.
Brian lifted his head. “You don’t like the color scheme? Let me guess – you prefer orange?”
A small huff was Justin’s reply. “No, it’s not that. This, this…” he gestured at the walls, “It’s great. Surprising…” Brian turned his head to look at the painting over the bed; Justin knew he really was avoiding looking at him. So he grasped Brian’s chin, turned his face back toward his. “I love it, I love you.” He kissed him, took a deep breath. “But, I have to talk to you about something else.”