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Ron escorted Brian into his private office. Brian was surprised to see that it was larger and more well-appointed than Julie's, with an impressive-looking mahogany desk, an oriental rug on the floor, and framed oil paintings on the wall.
"This is... um... a lot fancier than the rest of the office," Brian blurted out. "I mean, the desk and carpet and all of those paintings. I don't see anything like that anywhere else in here."
Ron smiled smugly. "I like to make a good impression, Brian. There's no reason that the PLD has to be a low-rent operation. Clients take you much more seriously if you look good and give off the air that you know what you're doing. This is my old desk from home. These paintings belonged to my father. And this rug I picked up from a client who couldn't pay me in cash." Ron leaned against the front of the desk and crossed his arms. "So? Are you impressed?"
"I guess so," said Brian. He knew that Ron came from a wealthy family and that even his years in prison hadn't impoverished his wife and children. But now he was seeing Ron in a much different circumstance. In his real element. Not surrounded by the shadow of prison, but the way his PLD clients must see him -- as a well-dressed, confident, and successful man. A man Brian didn't really know at all.
"John is retiring as the head of the Prisoners' Legal Defense in a few months -- and I'm slated to take his place," Ron said, proudly. "When I take over I'm planning to re-make it from the ground up. I want the PLD to be not simply a local voice for prisoners' rights, but a national organization, with branches all over the country. As a former prisoner myself we'll have increased credibility with the inmates in every prison in America. And we'll also have a perfect showcase for what we can do in the area of prison reform and pursuing new trials. That's where you come in, Brian."
"Me?" said Brian. The way Ron was staring at him was making him uneasy. "What do I have to do with anything?"
"Your trial, Baby," Ron replied. "Your trial and your forthcoming book, which is certain to be a best seller. I'm planning to use your case as an example of the abuses that still exist in the prisons in this country. Also as an example of what the PLD can do to correct so many wrongs that have been done to prisoners over the years. And you'll be our main spokesman, Brian."
Brian licked his dry lips apprehensively. "I don't think I want to be a spokesman, Ron. I only want all this to be over. I only want to be left alone to live the rest of my life as quietly as possible."
Ron stopped smiling and stepped toward Brian, putting his hands on Brian's shoulders. "That's a very selfish attitude, Brian," Ron chided. "After all the PLD has done for you, and after all I've done for you, you would think that you'd want to pay us back for all the years of work, not to mention all of the money spent, on your case. After spending so many years in the Quad you, of all people, should understand what payback is all about."
"I know about payback, Ron," said Brian, steadily. "I'm willing to work. I'm willing to do what I can. But I'm no fucking spokesman for anything! I'm not a glib person who can talk and convince people. I'm no lawyer! I would get muddled and tongue-tied if I was forced to do that kind of stuff. That's a job for you, Ron, not me."
"Nonsense, Brian," Ron insisted. "You're intelligent and articulate. You've never been the least bit hesitant when you were advocating something in which you truly believed. This is your cause, Brian. OUR cause! And we'll work together. Don't worry, Baby." Ron began stroking Brian's long neck. "I'll help you. The way I've always helped you."
"Don't do that," said Brian, trying to move away. But how could he reject Ron now? After all the years that they were together? After everything they had been through?
Brian closed his eyes and Ron brushed against him intimately. But, to his surprise, Brian felt nothing. Nothing at all. Brian thought of all of the years he had idolized Ron. Loved him. Built his entire existence around him. And he felt nothing now. Only a great emptiness where all that emotion had once lived.
"Stop it," Brian said more sharply. And he tried to push Ron away.
But Ron ignored Brian's protests. Instead he leaned in closer. "I like this leather jacket, Baby." Ron ran his hands up and down Brian's back, fingering the leather. "It's very sexy. I love the feel of it. Smooth and soft and tough -- just like you. It's a good image for you. The rebel WITH a cause. Like James Dean. The bad boy who is really a hero underneath. That's what the public will see. And that's how the press will write about you."
"Justin picked the jacket out," Brian said bluntly. "And he paid for it."
"Yes, Justin's a sweet kid," Ron murmured. "I'll get you some money from your own account, Baby. Then you can pay Justin back."
"I don't need to pay him back, Ron," said Brian. "It was his present to me."
"You want presents, Baby?" asked Ron. "Anything you need, let me know. Do you want a new TV set? That one in Justin's apartment is pretty old. Or what about a new stereo system? And I know you'll need a car to get around the city. But first you have to get your driver's license. We may have to wait until after your trial for that, but until then Justin can drive you around."
"I don't need all of those things, Ron! They aren't important -- don't you see?" said Brian, pushing him away abruptly. "And... and I wish you would lay off me, okay? Do you think I came down here to give you a cheap thrill in the afternoon?" Brian took a step backwards. And then another one. Away from Ron. "I thought you were engaged to Justin's mother? Not to mention that I'm sure you're still fucking Julie whenever you get the opportunity. And God knows how many other females! Shit, Ron! What are you thinking?"
Ron stared at Brian coolly. "This has nothing to do with Jennifer or any of those women, Brian. This is about us -- and that's something that's completely apart from any woman. You know that."
"In other words, you need a little ass to go along with your pussy -- and now I'm available again?" Brian snorted. "What's wrong with the guys you pick up on Liberty Avenue whenever the mood hits you? Does Jennifer Taylor know about those little excursions?"
"That has nothing to do with Jen -- or with you, Brian!" Ron retorted. "I'm disappointed in you! You know that our connection is about a lot more than sex. It's a real partnership -- personally, professionally, and physically. I could never have that with any female. You know that, Baby."
"A partnership?" said Brian. He took a deep breath. "So, Ron, if you really want to be my partner, in every possible way, are we going to live together? Are you ready to tell the world that you're my partner? My lover? Are you going to stand next to me while I'm being your 'spokesman' for the PLD and giving all of those interviews? Are you going to be there, supporting me? As a gay man? Are you going to do that, Ron?"
Ron tossed his head in disgust. "Don't be silly, Brian! I'm not gay! And you know that I can't stand up next to you and say such a thing!"
"Why not, Ron?" asked Brian. "It's all right for me to be your 'showcase' and your 'associate' in public. But only in private can I be anything more than your dirty little secret! Because it's okay to fuck a guy in prison. Because that's not being a fag, right? But once you're out, you have to be more careful. People might get the wrong impression. They might start to think you really ARE a faggot. Unless it's permitted because you only fuck. As long as you're the jocker. As long as you never have to take it up the ass! But what would they all say if they knew how much you liked to suck cock, too? That's something you never let anyone know about in the Quad, Ron! Because they might get the wrong idea about exactly what you are! Like that you actually were a queer!"
"Shut up, Brian!" Ron warned. "That's something personal between the two of us! And what we do together is no one else's business!"
"I think it's Justin's business," Brian replied. "Because he really IS my partner. He's not afraid of what he is or of what I am. Because I am a queer -- and he's a queer, too! And that's the only way it can be. Justin's not hiding anything and neither am I."
"You aren't being reasonable, Brian," said Ron, trying not to let his anger take over.
Brian zipped up his leather jacket and turned away. "I'm sorry, Ron, but this isn't about being reasonable. This is about reality. I know I owe you a lot, but I don't owe you that. I already gave you that for eight years. I never denied you, Ron! I worked for you in the Law Library and I cleaned your fucking cell and I washed your fucking clothes. And I never said no to your dick, no matter what I was feeling. But I'm not in the Quad now. And I have to live the only way I can. I have to be what I am, truly. Otherwise I might as well go back inside the joint and forget about the outside world."
"Baby, I...." Ron began.
But Brian cut him off. He jerked open the door of Ron's office. "Tell Julie to call me when she wants to meet about the trial. And I'll see you around."
Ron stood and watched Brian leave. He couldn't make himself say anything at all to stop him. Ron didn't know what to say to stop him. Brian shut the door behind him. Shut it hard.
"Baby," Ron repeated to the closed door. "Baby!"
"Here's my assignment, Miss Peterson," said Justin, handing his instructor three sheets of carefully typed paper. "I really enjoyed doing it. I love writing about the French Impressionists."
"Thank you, Justin," said Lindsay Peterson, putting Justin's essay into her briefcase. "I love the Impressionist painters, too. And I love to see a student who gets so excited by Art History. Most of the class are only taking my course to fulfill their Humanities requirement, so they aren't entirely enthusiastic about the subject."
"Oh, no, Miss Peterson," said Justin. "I'm really interested in Art History!"
Justin was in such a good mood that he was practically bouncing. Lindsay had never seen her student in such a lively mood. It was so infectious that Lindsay couldn't help but smile at him.
"Besides," he added. "My boyfriend is living with me now and I'm so happy that it's amazing! It's easy to do your assignments when you're happy!"
"Well, how nice for you," Lindsay replied carefully.
She wasn't certain what to say about Justin's statement. She knew that he was gay. In fact, although he was far from the only gay student at the university, or even in her class, he was one of only a few who were completely open about their sexuality. Justin often pointed out homoerotic imagery in the paintings they were studying or asked specific questions about gay artists. Occasionally Lindsay heard some of the other students mocking Justin behind his back, but he didn't appear to care. He seemed much more mature and focused than the average freshman and above petty gossip and college antics.
Lindsay had even gone so far as to mention Justin to her girlfriend, Melanie, who was an attorney at a large firm in Pittsburgh. Both women were out to their friends and some of their colleagues, but, like most gay couples, they were also wary of being too open about their relationship to strangers.
"Times are changing, Lindz," Melanie had said to her lover. "Maybe this kid feels that he has nothing to hide. Personally, I think it's a refreshing attitude. I wish I could have been that open when I was in college, but it was really risky back then."
"I know," Lindsay had replied, thinking about Justin's honesty. And it made both women extremely curious about Lindsay's unusually straight-forward student.
"Is your boyfriend a student here at CMU?" Lindsay asked as she and Justin walked out of the lecture hall.
"No," said Justin. "He's not a student." For a moment Justin hesitated, but then he continued on. "Actually, Brian just got out of prison. He was inside for 10 years."
Lindsay tried not to look shocked. "Prison," she repeated. "Oh, my! That's... interesting."
"You may have see him on the news, or read about his case in the papers," said Justin, noting her reaction. "He was convicted of the Penn State Bombings, but he's innocent. He was released on new evidence and now he's getting a new trial."
Lindsay stared at Justin in astonishment. "The Penn State Bombers? Do you mean Brian Kinney? He's your boyfriend?"
The Penn State case had been infamous when Lindsay had been in college and she and her friends had followed the original trial avidly in the newspapers. They all agreed at the time that Brian Kinney had gotten a raw deal and she had commented to Mel only the other day that it was incredible that the man was finally getting another day in court.
"Yes," Justin said proudly. "Brian Kinney is my boyfriend."
"But he's been in prison for so long!" Lindsay returned. "How did you meet him? Were you penpals?"
Justin's smile left his face, which suddenly became serious. "I haven't told anyone else here at school except for my English instructor, who is a friend of Amy Carver, my teacher in Stanton. But... but I was in prison, too, Miss Peterson."
"You?" Lindsay couldn't believe it. Justin seemed to be a very clean-cut, upper middle class boy. "You were in prison?"
"Yes," said Justin. "For almost a year. On a drug charge that got vacated. It's a long story, but that's where I met Brian. He was my cellmate -- and my lover. I'm not ashamed of it, but a lot of people wouldn't understand if they knew. People judge you when they know you've been in prison. I wanted people at CMU, both my professors and the other students, to see me, Justin Taylor, and not 1978-61842."
Lindsay frowned. "What's that?"
"My number," Justin replied. "What I was in Stanton Correctional. An inmate isn't a person, Miss Peterson, he's a number. But Brian gave me back my name. He gave me back my humanity. And he also did everything he could to get me out. And now he's out, too!" Justin grinned once again. "It's the real beginning of everything!"
"I'm so happy for you, Justin," said Lindsay, sincerely. They walked out of the building and into the bright afternoon sunshine. It was a cold March day, but the sun was warm and they could both feel that spring was finally in the air.
"Thanks, Miss Peterson," he said. "I have to get going now. This is Brian's first weekend outside and I want to make it special for him. He's still not used to being out or around a lot of strange people, so we're going to take it one step at a time."
"That's a fine idea, Justin," Lindsay agreed. "You have a wonderful weekend!"
Wait until I tell Melanie about this new development, she thought. As a lawyer Mel's going to find it extremely interesting. And as a hopeless romantic, Lindsay found the story extremely touching. Even beautiful in a melancholy way. She hoped that the two men would find some happiness after all they had been through.
"Good luck!" she called after Justin.
And he turned and waved at her before he dashed across campus, heading for the bus stop.
When Justin walked into the apartment Brian was in the kitchen.
Then Justin heard a crash.
"Brian? What are you doing?" he called.
Justin saw his lover crouching on the kitchen floor, surrounded by the remnants what looked like the explosion of a lettuce truck.
Brian stood up slowly. He was holding a large, empty bowl in his hands. "I thought I'd make something for dinner. But everything in the freezer was frozen solid. So I tried to make a salad. I figured I couldn't screw that up too much."
"What happened?" asked Justin, looking at the disorder in the kitchen.
"I dropped it," said Brian, dejectedly. "I fucking dropped it! I can't even do that much right!"
"Here, let me help you," said Justin. He set down his bookbag, took off his coat, and retrieved a dustpan and broom from the cupboard. Between the two of them, they cleaned up the stray pieces of shredded lettuce and deposited them in the trash.
"So much for my attempt at cooking," said Brian. "If you can call destroying a head of lettuce cooking."
"It's the thought that counts, Brian," Justin reassured him. "I'm sure it would have been a great salad."
"At least I wasn't stupid enough to put the dressing on it before I dropped it," he said. "Then it really would have been a fucking mess!"
Brian stalked out of the kitchen and sat down heavily on the sofa, shaking his head. Justin followed him and slipped beside his lover.
"It doesn't matter," Justin whispered, wrapping his arms around him. "Tomorrow we'll go to Shop N Save and buy more lettuce. You can take your frustrations out on that -- and I can keep an eye on you so you don't totally tear up our kitchen!"
"How do you know I'm frustrated?" Brian grumbled.
"By your expression," said Justin. "And I know that you went to the PLD office today. Which means that you saw Ron. That's how I know you're frustrated."
"No shit," Brian muttered. "What the fuck do I do about him, Justin?"
"Deal with him." Justin tightened his hold around Brian. "The way you've dealt with everything in your life. The way you've survived so far. By doing what you know is the right thing."
"But it's hard when it's someone who...." Brian bit at his lip. "Ron doesn't seem to realize that I'm not the same person I used to be. This isn't the Quad. This isn't the two of us alone against the fucking world. He doesn't understand that I have my own life now."
"Ron is certainly living HIS own life," Justin reminded him. "I don't see him pretending that things haven't changed. Ron's moved on in a big way, so he shouldn't be surprised that you have, too."
"Did you know that Ron is taking over the PLD? John is finally retiring and there's no way that Julie would want to run the thing. She wants to be in court, not doing paperwork and sweet-talking clients and donors." Brian rubbed his aching forehead. "But that's the perfect situation for Ron. He'll be the boss again. He'll be in the spotlight. He loves all of that shit! But...."
"But he wants you to be his 'associate,'" Justin jumped in. "He wants you next to him. His 'perfect inmate.' I figured that was his plan when I heard him talking to my mother about John stepping down. But I didn't know it was official."
"It's official," said Brian. "But I told him that I couldn't do it. I turned my back on him. And that feels...."
Justin rubbed Brain's neck gently. When Brian got bad headaches he liked Justin to massage him like that. Relieve all of the tension that built up in his shoulders and his neck and up into his beautiful head.
"I know," said Justin, softly. "It feels crummy. But it's your life, Brian. It doesn't belong to Ron -- or anyone else."
"I don't know what the hell I want to spend the rest of my life doing," said Brian. "But whatever it is, I want it to be my decision! I don't want Ron arranging my entire existence to suit himself and his ambitions. I know he thinks that he's doing me a favor, but this is only putting even more pressure on me! Then Ron tells me that my book needs to be a best seller! I mean -- fuck! It's not finished! I haven't even started working with the editor yet! But Ron is telling me that it has to be a success -- or else the PLD will suffer. What kind of crap is that?"
"That's Ron's bullshit, Brian," Justin soothed. He pushed Brian back on the sofa and put his legs up. Then he straddled Brian, sitting on top of him. "Ignore it. Listen to Julie. She's your attorney, not Ron. Remember how we were going to go slowly? Take one thing at a time?"
"Yes," Brian closed his eyes. "I remember."
"Then that's what we're going to do, Brian." Justin began unbuttoning Brian's shirt. "First things first."
"What are you doing?" Brian's eyes were shining with a bright green light as they looked up at Justin.
"The first thing -- what else?" Justin replied. He pulled Brian's shoulder up from the sofa slightly and slipped his shirt off, tossing it onto the coffee table. "And now me." Justin pulled his own sweater over his head and set it beside Brian's shirt.
"Isn't this sofa a little bit narrow for this kind of thing?" asked Brian.
"The bunks in the Quad aren't that much wider," Justin said. "But they were wide enough. Or have you already forgotten?"
"I haven't forgotten anything," Brian answered. "I never forget. It's my fucking curse."
"It doesn't seem like such a curse to me." Justin slipped his hands under Brian's undershirt. He could feel Brian's soft skin. The muscles of his chest and his back. But also his ribs. His spine. He was still so thin, as if he were knitted together of delicate silk over an unfinished frame. Justin was inches shorter, but his own body was much more solid, more a part of the material world than Brian's would ever be. Something within his lover seemed disconnected from mundane reality.
Justin fingered Brian's knife scar very gently and Brian shuddered under that touch. Life and death. That was the difference. Brian had been on that edge. But he had returned. He had returned for Justin.
Justin unbuttoned Brian's jeans. Brian shifted his hips as Justin slid the faded jeans down over his narrow hips and discarded them.
"We have to get rid of these old undershorts once and for all," Justin commented, removing them and dropping them on the floor. "Like this."
Brian pulled his undershirt off over his head. "I don't need a lot of new stuff, Justin. I can do okay without anything at all!" And then he smiled. His revealed body was pale, but with a natural golden sheen.
"Hold it!" Justin ordered. "One second! Don't move!"
Justin jumped up and went into the bedroom. He undressed quickly and grabbed the jar of vaseline from the bedside table.
"That was longer than a second," said Brian, watching Justin saunter back into the living room naked.
"I wanted you to miss me." Justin set the jar on the coffee table. "Another first. First time in the living room. Also the first time on this sofa." He climbed on top of Brian.
"Better than the first time on the kitchen floor, covered with wilting salad," Brian murmured.
"That's tomorrow," said Justin, opening the jar and slicking up Brian's already stiff cock. Then he lowered himself onto it, slowly. Very slowly. Brian held onto Justin's hips, steadying him.
"Let's not worry about tomorrow," Brian breathed. "Fuck tomorrow!"
"Yes!" Justin hissed as Brian's cock filled him. "Fuck!" He took a deep breath. "Tomorrow."
Posted June 30, 2005.