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Brian's eyes opened slowly. "How many time do I have to fuck you before you'll actually be tired enough to fall asleep?"
"Is that a rhetorical question, Brian? Or did you want to test it out?"
Brian sighed. "Jesus, I must really be getting old! Yes, it's a rhetorical question. Now go to sleep."
"Do you think that Al loves Wesley?"
Brian sat up slightly. "Huh? Where the fuck did THAT one come from?"
Justin hesitated. "I don't know. I was only wondering."
Brian scratched his head and then tried to smooth down his mop of hair. "I'm sure that Al likes Wes. He's pretty possessive of him, but then he's possessive of all his shit. That's the way some jockers are. It's territorial. Like a big dog with a bone. But love? I doubt that Al thinks in those terms. Why are you asking about this? Is Wesley picking out china patterns?"
"No, of course not!" said Justin. "I was just thinking about... us. And how we're different from the other guys. You know -- when we're alone together. And I was thinking about... stuff."
"Thinking about too much stuff is bad for your health, kid. For one thing, it keeps you awake. Turn over."
Justin turned on his side, facing the wall, and Brian spooned up against him. It was cramped in the lower bunk, but when they fit themselves together like that it didn't seem so crowded. It seemed just right.
"Have you ever said... I mean, have you ever told someone that... you loved them?" There, Justin thought, I said it. I asked it.
Brian flinched. It was like being burned with a cigarette. The pain is intense for the first few seconds, but then you stop feeling it. You've become so numb that even that dreadful pain passes quickly, leaving only the scar behind.
"Have you? Brian?" Justin probed. He wasn't going to let it go.
"Maybe," Brian whispered. "What difference does it make?"
"Maybe no difference," Justin admitted. "Or maybe all the difference in the world."
Justin knew that this was something hanging over the two of them. He understood that Brian loved him. Justin felt it so strongly. It was in everything that Brian did, every day, both out in the Quad and alone in their cell. But the words -- those Brian couldn't say. The words that tumbled out of Justin's mouth so easily, so naturally, seemed impossible for his lover to speak.
"Did you... say it to Ron? Did he say it to you?" Justin rubbed his eyes. "You don't have to answer, Brian. I know it's none of my business. I'm just your little punk, after all."
"No, Justin, you know that isn't true. You're more than a punk. That's a fucking fiction for the benefit of everyone else in the joint. We've talked about that."
"I know, Brian. That was a cheap shot. I'm sorry I brought that whole thing up." Justin's stomach was throbbing now. He knew that he shouldn't push Brian, but Brian was the only thing he had. The most important thing in his life. The only thing in his life. But maybe it was too much to ask Brian to feel the same way. Too much to want Brian to have that same overwhelming need.
"I never said anything like that to Ron," Brian whispered. "And he certainly never said anything like that to me. Are you kidding? Saying 'I love you' to a guy is fag stuff. And no matter how many times he might fuck me -- or how many times Al or Junior or Big John might fuck their punks or get sucked off by them, in their minds they aren't fags. Even if they kiss them -- that's just part of fucking. It's not love. There's a reason why the Bros call kissing their punks 'mugging' them -- it isn't about love. It's about power. It's about getting your rocks off and your needs met. It's not about emotion. It's not about 'love' -- whatever that means."
"But you know that it means something, Brian," said Justin. "You know that it's something more. Even if you never said it to Ron, you must have... felt it. I know you felt it. Because he can still get you so upset. And I know when you're thinking about him. That's not just nothing, Brian."
"Maybe," Brian answered. "But that's all in the past."
"Why didn't you want to see Ron on Visiting Day? He was there, waiting. He waited the whole time for you to show up."
"I know. You told me." Brian breathed into the back of Justin's shoulder. It smelled clean and salty. "But... I couldn't. It's too hard to explain."
"I'm listening, Brian."
"It's just that... for years I was always a... a thing. That's how I felt. I was a punk -- and a punk isn't a person. A punk is a possession. A punk is a status symbol. And that's what I was. It wasn't until Ron was out of here that I could see how little I really meant to him. For months he came to visit me and hardly even looked me in the eye. I handed him paperwork and we discussed cases and that was it. For 8 years I slept in this very bed with him, on this same lousy mattress, under this same thin blanket, and it was all meaningless."
"Maybe he didn't know what to say to you? Maybe he didn't know how to... to tell you what he was feeling?" Justin suggested.
"What he was feeling is the same as any jock feels. That he's a man. That he's got power over another human being. That he can fuck you whenever he wants to -- and that he can brag that he's got the best-looking bitch in the Quad. That's not anything about love." Brian paused and Justin could feel his breathing shorten. "But thinking about love is fucked anyway. You can say the words and it's still meaningless. It can still be a lie."
Justin inhaled. The old pillow was musty and the blanket smelled like sweat. He'd have to ask Em about washing them.
"Who lied to you, Brian? Ron?"
"No, not Ron," Brian replied. "He never made any kind of promises like that. It never would have occurred to him say such things. Maybe to his wife he did. Maybe to his clients. But there was never any reason to lie to me. What would be the point?"
"Then who, Brian? Who was it that hurt you?"
Brian was silent for so long that Justin thought that he'd fallen asleep. Except that his breath was too ragged for sleep.
"His name was Glenn. He came on campus from outside. I guess he was what they used to call an 'outside agitator.' He came to Penn to organize protests against the Vietnam War. He was about 26. Tall and good-looking. He had long dirty blond hair and a sexy, hairy body. Hairy chest and arms. Dark blond hair all over."
"He sounds hot."
"He was." Brian sighed. "I was a freshman and about as naive as anyone could be. I was at Penn on a scholarship. Soccer and track. But I hated the whole jock mentality. I wouldn't cut my hair, so I was always on the outs with my coaches and the other guys hated me. I was a Philosophy major and thought I was an intellectual. I didn't want anyone to know that my family didn't give a shit about education. I was the first one to go to college and I got nothing but shit about it. Pop called me a hippie and a long-haired faggot. Little did he know!"
"Did you know you were gay then?"
"I knew, but I'd never done anything. I was too scared. Fags were freaks. Fags were sick. Fags were illegal. I dated and screwed plenty of girls in high school and that proved I was normal, right? Until I went to an organizational meeting for the anti-war protests. The minute I saw Glenn my dick told me loud and clear that I was a fag. I couldn't stop staring at him. And later on, back at the dorm, I couldn't stop thinking about him."
"Sounds like a bad crush, Brian."
"Oh, it was bad. I joined the anti-war group and they put me to work, passing out flyers and putting up posters for protests. Doing all kinds of scut work. But I also spent time lying around in Glenn's crummy off-campus apartment, getting high and listening to music with him and the others. It was the 1960's and everybody was fucking everybody. I made it with some of the girls hanging around, but my mind was on Glenn. Everything he said I took as the gospel truth. He'd studied Political Theory at Harvard, but he got kicked out before he took his degree. He'd organized protests all over the country. He could talk and talk and talk. He had an answer for everything and I ate it all up. I had it bad. Really, really bad. The only problem was that he was straight."
"Was he really straight, Brian? Or was he just... like you? In denial?"
Brian shrugged. "That's what I was hoping. Because he singled me out. Took me under his wing. Called me and did things with me. Confided in me. I was practically living at his place. Sleeping there and getting high with him. And then, one night...." Brian stopped. "We did it. We were high and everyone else was gone and then... we started fooling around. And we fucked. It blew my mind! We must have done it 3 or 4 times. I was sure that the next morning he'd tell me to get lost or pretend it never happened. But he didn't. He told me I was... beautiful. And then we fucked again!"
"Wow," said Justin. A knot of jealousy was forming inside him.
"Wow is right. And we kept doing it, too, regularly. It was fucking amazing to me! He told me that he loved me -- and I said I loved him, too. Told him I'd do anything for him. Anything! I finally felt like I knew who I was. And I really was totally in... in love with Glenn. Totally. Which was what he had intended. Exactly what he had intended."
Justin shivered. "What do you mean, Brian? What he intended?"
"It was part of their plan, kid. He figured out right away that I was gay and he... he used me. They all used me. The whole group. They were planning a big 'guerilla' action. A break-in. They told me they were going to steal ROTC files from one of the administration buildings on campus and then burn them during a big anti-war rally that was coming up. But that's not what was really going on. They were really planning to set explosives and blow up the building."
Justin turned and looked at Brian. It was too dark to see his face clearly. "But why did they need you? I don't understand."
"They... they wanted my car. They wanted a... a distraction. A fall guy. Glenn said I'd been 'chosen' to drive them all to the building that night. Chosen because I was the only one he trusted. Because I was his lover. So I drove the car and sat there. They came back about an hour later. They didn't have any ROTC records. They told me they couldn't get them. I dropped them all off and went back to my dorm. But the big explosion was a fucking bust. Their charges started a fire that spread through the second floor and mainly caused a lot of smoke. An old man who was working as a security guard was sleeping in the basement. He inhaled some smoke and died of a heart attack."
"Oh, no -- Brian!"
"Yes. I woke up when the cops pounded on my dorm room door. Someone saw my car parked out in front of the administration building the night before and the police walked straight to me. I wasn't trying to hide. I didn't even know that I should be hiding! They took me into custody. Of course, by that time the rest of the group -- Glenn and the real members of the cell -- had gone underground. They haven't been seen since. None of them."
"Oh my God," Justin breathed.
"Of course, I knew nothing. I couldn't tell the cops a fucking thing about the break-in or the failed bombing, because everything I knew -- or thought I knew-- was a lie. Including Glenn's declarations of love. They had picked me because I was naive and gullible. Glenn fucked me to make sure I'd do anything he told me to -- and I did. And the cops didn't get anything out of me except the truth. That I drove them all to the building and then drove them back. I didn't even know Glenn's real name. I only found that out later -- at the trial."
"Brian... I... I can't believe it!"
"Believe it. I was charged with everything they could think of, from Arson to Conspiracy to Second-degree Murder, among others. And convicted on all counts. The prosecutors were furious that they couldn't find the rest of the 'gang' -- but they had me. And they had a show trial and threw the fucking book at me. My only real defense, my only excuse, was that I was so in love with Glenn that I just did what he said without knowing what was really going on. But... but my lawyers wouldn't let me bring that up. It was never brought out in the trial because my defense team was afraid that if the jury knew I was a fucking faggot cocksucker AND a radical hippie Communist terrorist, they would want to kill me and not just put me away for life. So, my embarrassing brush with 'true love' was never mentioned. And I got 20 years to life. And here I am -- the fucking prisoner of love. Are you happy to know it all now? Are you, Justin?"
Justin wiped away the tears in his eyes. "I... I'm so sorry, Brian. I don't know what to say!"
"Skip it. It's ancient history. Now that you know the whole story, you can forget about it." Brian closed his eyes. But it still hurt. Even after all these years. "I... I still believed that it was all a mistake, right up until near the end of the trial. I still believed that... that Glenn loved me. That he hadn't meant for me to get hurt. That... it all went wrong somehow and it wasn't his fault. But then even I realized the truth. He set me up and he fucked me over. I was worthless to him except as a bone to throw to the cops while they all got away. And it worked like a charm. Once I understood that, I gave up. I didn't even try to fight anymore. My parents disowned me. My friends turned their backs on me. Even my lawyers told me to shut up about the fact that I was queer. The only person who gave me a fucking break was the psychiatrist at the Processing Center in Harrisburg -- you know, the Psycho Center? He suggested that I go to a medium security facility because I'd be at risk in a maximum security joint. The guy knew I'd be eaten alive in the State Pen. And so... so the first night I was here I was raped by the entire low-rider gang and taken to their tip as their prize punk. And that began my real life in Stanton -- and ended my disastrous experiment in 'love.'"
"No, Brian," said Justin, turning over and putting his arms around Brian. "Not ended. Believe that! You have to believe that!"
"I'm trying, kid," Brian said. "I'm trying. But you have to give me time. A little time."
"All the time in the world, Brian," said Justin, meaning it with all his heart. "All the time that you need. That WE need. Right here. And that's a start, isn't it?"
"Yes," whispered Brian, trying to believe. "It's a start."
Brian walked across the Yard, heading for the running track. Now that the weather was clearing he could start doing his morning run again. Running was a way of blowing off steam and also pretending, a least for a few laps, that he was somewhere else.
"Oh," Brian said, turning. "Ben." It was Juice. That's what all the jockers called him -- but only behind his back.
"Mind if I walk with you?"
Brian shrugged. "I was just going to run. Now that we aren't up to our asses in snow I thought I'd work some of the kinks out of my legs."
Ben grinned. "So that's why you're so fast on the basketball court. You're a fucking track star!"
"Once upon a time I was. In high school," said Brian. "But I obviously didn't run fast enough to get away from the cops."
"Oh, right," said Ben. "Ha! That's funny."
"Who's joking?" Brian deadpanned.
The snow had melted, but it was still cold. Brian was wearing a pair of sweatpants that Justin had given him, two of his old tee shirts, and Justin's St. James Academy sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was a bit small, but Brian liked wearing it. It was soft and thick and seemed permeated with the kid's essence. It felt lucky.
"You run every day?" Ben asked.
"I try," said Brian. He stopped on the edge of the gravel track and stretched. "It's pretty hard to run inside during the winter. The gym isn't the best place to do it, but this track isn't bad. Sometimes you just get a little stir crazy being cooped up all the time. You need to breathe some fresh air. This helps -- a little."
Ben nodded. "You've been in a while."
"I guess a little birdie must have told you," Brian sniffed.
"I was just asking around." Ben shuffled uncomfortably. "See, I wanted to apologize if you thought I was dogging your kid. I... I wasn't. I mean, I was interested. He's the best looking punk in here, but you know that. Everybody knows that. But I don't want to step on anybody's toes. Especially yours."
"It's not a problem," said Brian, bending over to check his shoes. The last thing he wanted to do was fall on his face or twist his ankle his first time out on the track. "Since Justin isn't interested in anyone but me, you can look at him all you want -- as long as you don't try to press the issue. Get it?"
"Yeah, I get it," Ben replied. "But what I really wanted to do was thank you."
Brian looked up. "Thank me? What for?"
"Emmy told me that you were the one who suggested that Michelle and I get to know each other a little better."
"That was quick," Brian smiled. "Poor old Dave's only been gone two days!"
Ben winced slightly. "But he and Michelle had been pretty disconnected for a while. She told me so. Anyway, we were talking last night in the Rec Room -- and then later in her cell -- and I think we're going to try hooking up."
"Congratulations. And you want me to be the Best Man? Or the Maid of Honor?" Brian cracked.
"Neither," Ben answered seriously. "I just wanted to thank you, like I said. I know it's hard for a new guy to hook up with somebody, especially with somebody as great as Michelle. I guess I kind of lucked out, huh? I mean, that she likes me."
Brian made a face. "Michelle has a thing for guys who look like her comic book heroes. In that you definitely fit the bill, Ben. But she'll treat you right. She's bitchy, like all queens, and she's high maintenance, but I'm sure you won't mind that. A little pampering should do the trick."
"No, I won't mind doing that. I... I like a steady relationship. It helps calm my nerves," Ben said.
Brian looked Ben in the eye. "But one thing I want to make clear. Michelle's a friend of mine. Yes, she's whiny and, yes, she can be a bitch, but she's been a good friend to me. So has Emmy and a lot of the other queens. And I don't like to see my friends harmed in any way. I'd hate to see Michelle get hurt. Do you understand me, Ben?"
Ben frowned. "You mean... about the steroids?"
"That's exactly what I mean," Brian said. "I know you spent time in the detox in Harrisburg and I know you're seeing the treatment counselor here and all that, but a lot of people take a lot of shit in the joint, treatment or no treatment. I'd hate for you to get juiced up and then take it out on someone who can't fight back. Like Michelle. Get my drift?"
"I won't, Bri. I don't want to fuck it up with Michelle. I really like her. If we hook up I won't screw it up. I mean that."
"Then go for it," said Brian. The sun was trying to come out and it was starting to feel warmer on Brian's face. "Anything that will make you even a little happier in this lousy joint is worthwhile."
"You're hooked up. And you seem happy. I mean, aren't you happier than before, when you were alone? Before you met the kid?" Ben asked.
"Yes," Brian said, squinting up at the sun and then watching it disappear behind another cloud. "I'm happier. But... sometimes happiness doesn't last. You have to make the most of it while you can. So don't fuck things up."
Ben grinned. "I won't! Hey, I owe you, pal! I really owe you!"
Brian laughed. "And I'll collect -- when the time comes. That's one lesson I've learned inside. Store up your credit and then collect when you need it most. So don't you forget that when I need you someday, right, Juice?"
Juice -- Ben -- nodded and held out his right hand. "Right, Bri."
They shook on the future and whatever it might bring. Then Ben went on his way, back to find Michelle and talk to her about celling with him.
Brian ran his laps and tried to clear his head of the past in order to make room for a present in which he really could be happy -- at least until that past finally caught up with him.
"I don't know, Em," Justin sighed. He shoved another load of underwear into the washing machine and sprinkled the soap powder on top. "I really want to have a birthday party for Brian. A real party, with cake and presents and everything! But it's looking more and more impossible." Justin slammed the lid on the machine and hit the button. The washer lurched and began to fill with water.
Em leaned over and gave Justin a hug. He was so cute that Em wanted to cry over his romantic frustrations. "Sunshine, I'm sure if you have a nice, private little celebration in your room, just the two of you, that will make your man as happy as a pig in mud! Bri Baby doesn't need a fancy party. All he needs is what every man needs -- a little bit of TLC!"
"But we do that every day, Em! I want Brian's birthday to be something special. I want him to have a cake. Maybe even ice cream, too! And decorations for the Rec Room. Is that too much to ask?"
"It is in here, honey," Emmy said sadly. "I'm sorry to burst your bubble, babydoll, but where are you going to get cake and ice cream? Where are you going to get decorations? Or even wrapping paper?"
"I can make the wrapping paper myself. I've already started on that, using old magazines and drawing paper."
"Well, honey, that's a start." Em patted Justin's shoulder gently. "Maybe that's all you can do for now. But that's more of a birthday than Baby has ever had before, I can tell you THAT for certain."
"Didn't Ron ever... I mean, he must have celebrated Brian's birthday some way?"
Em shook his head. "Not that I ever remember. Why should he? Around the time of Bri's birthday last year, Ronnie was just getting ready to blow this joint. His parole was all set and he was processing to go. I'm sure that a party -- or even a present -- for his long-time cellmate was the furtherest thing from that man's mind."
"I can't understand it, Em," said Justin. "How could anyone live with Brian all those years and... and take him for granted like that?"
"Maybe that's why, Sunshine. You take someone for granted because you are so used to him. He's always there and that's just that. But from the dish on the tier, Ronnie is tres upset that Bri wouldn't see him last week on Visiting Day. That should make the guy stop and think."
"I know. I was visiting with my mom and Ron sat there the whole time, waiting. You could tell he was steamed."
Em smiled. "The Baby has grown some balls, Sunshine. And Mister Ron doesn't like that! But I say -- it's about time! And that's YOUR influence, honey."
Justin blushed, but he was very pleased to hear Emmy say that. Everyone had noticed the change in Brian ever since the two of them had hooked up. Brian had always been well-liked on the tier. The men depended on his Legal Aid work and Brian was easy-going and forthright. You always knew where you stood with him. But now the jockers more than liked Brian -- they accepted him. He was an important member of their b-ball team and a good guy to spot you in the gym or watch your back out on the Yard.
Justin understood that his presence as Brian's kid was part of that transformation, but he was also aware that the status of any man in the Quad was precarious. The wrong move, the wrong word, or a challenge from another jocker that Brian couldn't meet might send the whole house of cards tumbling to the ground.
But this birthday party -- if Justin could pull it off it would be a coup. The ability to throw a party was a symbol of status. You needed planning and you needed cooperation from other inmates. But you also needed credit, which was something that Justin was lacking.
"There must be a way, Em!" said Justin.
"The only way you can get any special food, honey, is to fix it with the guys in the kitchen. And you'd have to barter with them. But you don't have any bargaining power, Justin," Emmy reminded the kid as he pulled his fine washables out of the machine and shook them out. "You aren't working, so you aren't collecting any credit at the canteen."
"I know, Em," Justin replied. "My mom sends money to my account every month, but it isn't that much. When I need things, I charge them to Brian's account." That was one of the privileges of a punk -- drawing on his jock's canteen credit. And Brian had quite a bit saved up because he received a decent amount for his legal work -- much more than Emmy got as an orderly in the Hospital or Barbie got working in the Laundry -- and Brian hardly ever drew on it, except to get things for Justin.
"You could use Brian's account for decorations. And soft drinks, too," Em suggested.
"But I don't want to use Brian's own credit on his party! That would be like making him pay for his own birthday. I should be paying for it myself!" Justin plopped himself down on the wooden bench in front of the machines and rubbed his face.
"Sweetie," Em returned. "The only thing you have of value in this joint is what you are sitting on. And you are NOT going to peddle your bubble butt in exchange for a birthday cake!"
"No, Em. I could never do that, no matter what," Justin admitted. "But there must be something I can use for trade?"
Emmy gathered up her wash and began hanging her undies on the clothesline. She refused to put her dainties into the industrial dryers that would rip them into shreds. "If I think of anything, I'll let you know."
Wesley walked in, dragging his laundry bag behind him. "Hey, Just, Em."
"Hi, Wes," said Justin, tossing his clothes into the dryer. "I just finished with this machine."
"Thanks," said Wesley, dumping all the clothing out on the dirty floor.
Em rolled her eyes. "You little straight boys have no idea how to do the wash! Have you separated your whites from your colors, honey?"
"Huh?" said Wesley, his mouth hanging open.
"Let me do it for you, sweetheart," said Em, picking through the pile of Wesley and Al's clothes.
"Justin, do you think I could talk to you for a minute?" asked Wesley.
"Sure. What's up?" said Justin.
Wesley took Justin's elbow and guided him over to the corner. "I... I wanted to thank you for not, you know, saying anything about... about me and Stormy. I mean, to Brian or anybody."
"That's okay, Wes. I told you I wouldn't say anything and I won't," Justin assured the other kid.
"Thanks, Just." Wesley hesitated. "I... I need to ask you for another favor. I know I don't have anything to trade for, but... but... see, my ma... I wanted to, you know...."
Justin took a deep breath. "Wes, what do you need? Just ask me. Don't worry about owing me anything. We're pals, like I said. So tell me what I can do for you."
Wesley nodded. "My ma is in Indiana. She can't come here and see me. I... I haven't seen her in... in almost a year. I know you draw all those pictures of Bri and everything. You even drew a picture of me and Al, remember? So I wondered if you'd draw a picture of me that I could send my ma. 'Cause she can't come here, you know?"
Justin felt a pang. Wes was never in the Gallery on Visiting Day, but Justin had never really wondered where his family was. He'd never thought to ask and now he felt guilty about that. It made Justin wonder about the other boys he was friendly with. They rarely had any visitors, either. Maybe their families were too poor to come, or too far away, like Wesley's mother. Or maybe there was no family to come. Justin thought about Brian's parents and how they lived only 50 miles away and never came to see him. Never even wrote to him.
"Sure, Wes. I'll do a great picture for your mom. My mother sent me some new sketchpads and colored pencils, so I can do a really nice portrait." Justin smiled. Drawing was no chore at all -- it was a pleasure!
"Geez, Justin, thanks!" Wesley smiled his crooked little smile. "And... and if you, you know, if you wanna... do it, that's all I've got to pay for the picture. So whenever you say, it's okay."
Justin winced. He thought about Em telling him that the only thing he had of value was his ass. It was no different for poor Wesley. He thought about Stormy fucking Wes in the bathroom before class. Justin was pretty certain that Joey and a few of the other punks were also taking advantage of the kid whenever they had the opportunity. And Wesley was afraid to tell his jock, Al, about it. That would be snitching on another punk and everyone hated a snitch. A snitch was the lowest of the low.
"Wes, you don't have to put out for me. I'm happy to do your picture for you. You can do something else for me sometime later, all right?"
Wesley grinned even wider. "Thanks, Just! You're a real pal!" And then he burst into tears.
"Jesus, Wes, it's okay!" Justin said, holding onto Wesley while he cried. Emmy, hanging up her undies in the middle of the laundry room, was pretending not to notice. So Justin just let Wes cry until he was empty.
But Justin had an idea. Justin's ass wasn't the only thing he had of value. Wesley obviously thought something else Justin could do was worth bargaining for. His Art. His talent. If Wes wanted a portrait made, maybe other guys would want one, too. Like the guys down in the kitchen. The guys who could make a cake for a birthday party.
Justin now had a plan. He would make this party work! Brian would have a birthday he'd never forget! That no one at Stanton would ever forget! Justin's mind was already putting all the pieces together.
Posted November 25, 2004.