Go to all chapters of "Medium Security" and "The Outsiders".
When Brian walked into the Liberty Diner that awful music was blasting again.
Thumpa, thumpa, thumpa.
It gave him a fucking headache!
"Bad girls! Bad girls!" some woman was yowling at the top of her lungs from the jukebox. And the bass was turned up high. Very high.
Brian liked loud music with a beat, but not when he was eating. And not when he had to sit and wait for Justin to finish his shift. A fucking captive audience.
"Hey!" said Justin, giving him a quick kiss as he hustled by with an empty tray. "I saved the back booth for you. I should be done in about 15 minutes."
Brian shrugged and slunk to the back of the diner, sliding into the booth. He was hungry, but he didn't particularly want to eat there with all that booming music. And the diner was starting to get crowded. The lunch rush was about to begin, which was when Justin's morning shift ended.
"Don't I know you?" said a voice.
That was the other reason Brian didn't care to hang out in the Liberty Diner. You couldn't even sit there for 10 seconds without some guy cruising you.
"I don't think so," Brian said shortly. He glanced at the guy, but didn't look him in the eye. Guys took that as an open invitation.
But the guy sat down anyway, plopping himself opposite Brian in the booth. "Sure you do. From Woody's. You and the blond kid were together. He works here." The guy gestured to Justin, who sped by with a full tray. Justin was wearing a tight pair of cut-off jeans and an even tighter light blue tee shirt and his hair was bleached almost white by the summer sun.
"Maybe," Brian returned. He remembered this guy now. He was a bartender at Woody's. Brian and Justin rarely went in there or any other bar on Liberty, but when they did it was usually during the afternoon after Justin had ended his shift. It was quiet then and the guys weren't as aggressively prowling for sex.
"I see him in here all the time, but I haven't seen you," said the guy. Like they were old friends. Brian could never figure that out. Total strangers acting like they knew you just because you were both queers. "My name's Jeff. What's yours again?"
"I don't think I ever gave you my name," Brian said grudgingly. But it was a losing battle. Everyone on Liberty Avenue knew everyone else. That was the way it was. "But it's Brian."
"Brian," said Jeff, as if tasting it. "And the kid is Justin. He's waited on me and my boyfriend, Greg. Cute kid." He turned and appraised Justin's ass in the cut-offs. "You two live together?"
"Yeah," said Brian. "Not that it's any of your fucking business."
But Jeff only grinned.
He liked Brian's surly attitude. The man was very hot and that sullen stare was part of his appeal. The tough guy stance. Jeff knew Brian had been in prison. He'd pumped the kid for information a couple of times. He and Greg both agreed that they'd love to get the tall ex-con and his blond boyfriend back to their place and see what developed. They knew a lot of interesting games to play. Nothing too heavy for a couple of beginners. Maybe a little light B & D. Brian would look fucking amazing in a leather harness, Jeff thought. And the kid -- well, he could picture a lot of hot scenes involving the kid. But Brian was skittish. Very skittish.
"I'm getting something to eat before I meet my boyfriend to go shopping," Jeff explained, picking up the menu. "You getting lunch? Mind if I join you?"
"No," said Brian. "I'm not staying. Justin and I are going out to look for a car."
"Oh, yeah?" said Jeff with interest. "What kind of car?"
"Something used." Brian shifted around uncomfortably. He wished that Justin would get moving so they could get out of there. "Something I can afford."
"You looking for any specific kind of car?" asked Jeff. "For work or for pleasure? Or a little bit of both?"
"We're taking a trip," said Justin, suddenly standing next to the booth. "We're driving to Florida."
"Florida, huh?" Jeff replied. "In the middle of the summer?"
"This is the only time we can do it," said Justin. "I'm starting back to college in September, and Brian was working on his book up until last week, and my mom got married, and...."
"And that's enough," said Brian, standing up. "You ready to go or do you want to give this guy your entire life story?"
Justin laughed. "Everyone in the diner already knows my entire life story, Brian -- and yours! And so will everyone else when your book comes out!"
"I knew that book was a fucking mistake." Brian took a deep breath. Justin loved to tell everyone he met everything about his life, but Brian couldn't get used to that. He couldn't get used to the way everyone on the outside seemed to tell you everything about themselves within five minutes of meeting you and expected you to do the same. But Justin was right -- once his book was published in the fall Brian's carefully guarded privacy would be a thing of the past.
That's why this trip to Florida was so important to him. It was chance for the two of them to get away together, but especially for Brian to escape from all the pressure he'd been under in recent months. The aftermath of his trial and all of the publicity that went with it. Then the stress of working with his editor, Ed McCandless, to finish his book in time for it to be included on the Fall List. Then the circus of Ron and Jennifer's wedding. And always the stifling atmosphere of Liberty Avenue where everyone and his brother knew all of your fucking business. Brian had thought the Stanton Quad was like a hothouse, but it was nothing compared to the closed circle that was the Pittsburgh gay community. And the Liberty Diner was ground zero -- with Justin in the center of it.
Brian had tried to get Justin to quit his job at the diner a number of times, but Justin flat out refused. He liked his co-workers, including Debbie Novotny, the mother of one of their pals in Stanton, and he liked the tips he made. And Justin also seemed to enjoy the attention he got from the men who hung out at the diner. Justin liked flirting with them even while he clearly let them know that flirting was as far as it would go. The diner regulars had all heard about the tall, handsome boyfriend who had been in prison for ten years -- and that Justin himself had been inside for almost a year. Those exotic facts gave Justin a certain mystique and upped his tips significantly. And having a great ass, which he enjoyed showing off in tight jeans and short shorts, didn't hurt either.
"Your book is going to be a huge best seller!" Justin insisted. "When it's published Brian is going to do a signing at the Liberty Bookstore," he bragged to Jeff. "The owner is going to have a party for the publication."
"Oh, yeah?" said Jeff, truly impressed. "You know, if you guys really need a car, I got a friend who's selling one. It's not new, but it's in fantastic shape. It's a '69 Thunderbird."
"1969?" said Justin. "That's ten years old. We were thinking of a more recent model."
But Brian's ears perked up. "A T-bird?" He remembered that as a hot car when he was in high school, something he never would have been able to afford back then. "What kind of condition is it in?"
"Pretty good," said Jeff. "My friend who's selling it only drove it in good weather. He's a butch guy, but when it comes to that car he's a real queen! Fusses over it like a baby. The body is rust-free and the engine got an overhaul last year."
"Then why's he selling?" Brian asked suspiciously. It sounded too good to be true.
"He got a new job in New York City and it's hard to keep a car there," Jeff explained. "So he has to let it go. But he's the original owner. If you guys would like to go over and take a look at it, I can give him a call. What do you say?"
Brian glanced at Justin, who nodded. It wouldn't hurt to take a look. They needed wheels to take them to Florida and back. Brian could picture himself in a Thunderbird. It was a car with some meat on its bones. Most of the 1970's models they had looked at so far seemed like little metal boxes to Brian. They looked ugly and insubstantial. Nothing like the big, free-wheeling cars from 1960's that Brian had coveted as a teenager. He'd be damned if he was going to drive a thousand miles in a fucking Pinto or a Gremlin!
"Yeah," said Brian. "Give your friend a call. We'd like to take a look at his Thunderbird."
"Guess what Brian and I did last night?"
Oh, dear, thought Jennifer. She always held her breath whenever her son Justin made a comment like that. She didn't like to think about the kinds of things that Justin did with his boyfriend, Brian. Because it was bound to be something she didn't want to know about. Something to do with their relationship. And with sex.
But Jennifer swallowed hard. "What was that, honey?"
Justin grinned at his mother. "We bought a car!"
"Oh." Jennifer was surprised. "I thought you were going to go with Ronnie to look for a car?"
Justin made a face. He tolerated his mother's new husband, but that didn't mean he had to like him.
"Brian and I are perfectly capable of buying a car without Ron looking over our shoulders!"
Jennifer sighed. "I know you are capable, Justin. I never suggested that you aren't." Justin could be so touchy. But not as touchy as Brian, thank God! "I only thought that Ron was going with you to make certain you boys got a good deal."
"Oh, we got a great deal!" Justin crowed. "It's a 1969 Thunderbird and it's totally cool! The guy who was selling it, Phil, is a hairdresser and he got a new job in New York so he can't take the car. It's in really beautiful condition! He wanted a thousand bucks for it, but Brian sweet-talked him down to $750."
"How did he do that?" asked Jennifer.
Justin laughed. "He took a cue from me! He flirted with the guy. Only a little bit, but that's all it took! Phil was eating out of Brian's hand by the time he got finished with him. It was priceless!"
"I see," said Jennifer. Flirting with the man who was selling the car. What a way to do business! And Justin thought it was great!
It made Jennifer uneasy to know how completely comfortable Justin seemed to be with being gay, especially now that he was living with Brian in the middle of an area of town where a lot of gay men congregated. And he was working at the Liberty Diner, too. That was a notorious hang-out for the gays. Everyone in Pittsburgh knew that! Telling her friends where her son worked was like wearing a big sign: "My son is a queer!"
Jennifer had been down to Liberty Avenue a few times to meet Justin and she'd been shocked at some of the things going on there. Why, she had seen an extremely effeminate man wearing eye make-up in broad daylight! Standing right outside the diner! And when she and Justin had walked by the person said, "Hi, Justin!" like the two of them were old friends!
"I know everyone around here," Justin had explained. "Darren does a drag show at Woody's every Sunday night. He's a nice guy."
Those were the kinds of friends Justin was cultivating. Drag queens! Ex-cons like Brian and the people Justin still wrote to in prison. That Emmett. Even Mrs. Novotny's son, Mikey, was one. It worried Jennifer to distraction. She had tried talking to Ronnie about it, but he always dismissed her fears.
"The boys need to live their own lives, my dear," he'd lectured her. "Justin is never going to live in the suburbs and join the country club, so you had better get used to it. He's gay and he's got his own friends and his own way of doing things. And the sooner you reconcile yourself to that, the happier you'll be."
She tried. She really did. But it was difficult. So very difficult!
And now Justin and Brian were planning a trip down to Florida. That's why they wanted a car. They were going to drive all the way, just the two of them.
That worried her, too.
It was such a long way down to Florida. A long, long drive. Anything could happen on such a trip!
Brian hadn't been out of prison all that long and Jennifer worried that he was having a hard time adjusting to life on the outside. Sometimes Brian was moody and even angry. He'd had a number of loud confrontations with Ronnie and Jennifer was afraid that Brian might become violent one day. What if he lashed out at Justin? What if he hurt her son?
Again, Ron refused to take her concerns seriously.
"Brian is the least violent person I know, Jenn," he told her. "I'm more likely to take a fist to someone than Brian. Good God -- Justin is more likely to get physical than Brian! That's not the way Brian deals with things. He internalizes everything. He's more likely to hurt himself than to hurt someone else. And he'd never hurt Justin. Ever. Believe me."
But her new husband's words still hadn't put her mind at ease.
Jennifer turned the car into the driveway of the new house. "Here we are!" Jennifer rang out. "Can you carry in that box in the backseat, honey?"
"Sure, Mom," said Justin as he got out of the car. "Where does this stuff go?"
"The kitchen," she replied. "It's a new set of everyday china."
Slowly but surely they were getting everything in order for the big move. Jennifer could hardly wait! That cramped apartment wasn't nearly big enough for her and Ron and Molly. Ron knew that and had bought her the house as a wedding present. It was just like him! Ronnie was so thoughtful! As soon as she finished redecorating the three of them would be ready to move in.
"I'm getting your things out of storage, Justin," said Jennifer. "But I'd like you look at pictures of the new furniture I'm buying for your room. That old furniture was a mess, so I thought a new bedroom set, a desk, and new shelves would be just the thing."
Justin shook his head. "It doesn't matter, Mom. I'm not going to be living in your new house so I don't know why you're going to all that trouble. If you want to buy new furniture and put my old books on the shelves, that's fine. But I'm not going to move in with you and Molly -- and Ron!"
Jennifer smiled tightly at her son. "I'd never have a home and not include you, sweetheart. You're my son! I want you to feel at home in my new house."
Justin carried the box of dishes up to the front door and Jennifer opened it. He followed her into the kitchen. Yes, thought Justin, it's a nice house. But I'm not living here. Especially not with Ron in it!
Justin set the box of china on the counter. "There," he said. "Listen, Mom -- I know you mean well, but I'll never be at home in this house. The only place I'm at home is in our own apartment. Brian's and mine. Or wherever Brian is. Wherever that might be. That's where I live and that's my home. For always. Maybe you don't want to hear that, but it's the truth. So why can't you be happy for me? Just a little?"
Jennifer felt like she was going to cry. "I AM happy for you, darling," she lied. "Very, very happy."
Justin smiled and that filled up Jennifer's heart. He was so beautiful! And she desperately wanted him to be happy! He deserved to be happy after all he had been through!
"Good, Mom," Justin replied. "Because I intend to be happy from now on. Happy with Brian."
"What the fuck do you mean you've already bought a car?"
Ron stared up at Brian, who had barged into Ron's office at the Prisoners' Legal Defense without even announcing himself to Doris at the front desk.
"I bought it last night," Brian replied with a defiant edge to his voice. "Justin and I went over to the guy's house and took it for a test drive. It's a 1969 Ford Thunderbird." He slapped some paperwork on Ron's desk. "Title. Registration. Receipt for $750. I'll need to get insurance for the thing before I can drive it anywhere. But I want all the legal stuff to be straightened out before Justin and I leave for Florida."
Ron rubbed his tired eyes. This had been a bitch of a week and it wasn't getting any better. Ron was trying to be his usual calm and reasonable self, but it was difficult. Brian had been making him fucking crazy lately!
"Brian, I thought you were going to wait and go with me to look for a car? I have information about a number of good prospects right here on my desk -- if I can find them." Ron pushed some papers around, looking for a list he'd made. "Here's a deal on a Ford Maverick that's only three years old. And another one on an AMC Hornet. Or you can buy a brand new Pinto for the price of one of those older used cars. These are cars that my mechanic has already checked out and okayed. We can go over this evening and look at them. They're all good deals."
Brian shrugged. "I don't care what your mechanic says, Ron. I don't want to drive a Pinto or a Hornet or some fucking tin box! This T-bird is a nice car and I want it."
Ron stood up and walked around the desk. "Brian, you say this car is ten years old? And you paid $750 for it? That's ridiculous! I wouldn't pay $75 for a ten-year-old car!"
"Not any ten-year-old car. A Thunderbird, Ron," Brian said firmly. "It's in good shape. I drove it around the block. Justin rode with me and he likes the car, too. If you want your mechanic to take a look at it, then be my guest. But it's my car and I'm keeping it."
Ron put his arm around Brian's shoulders. "Listen, Baby, I explained this to you before. If you and Justin insist on taking this drive down to Florida, then you need a safe vehicle. I promised Jennifer that Justin wouldn't be heading off on the highway in some beat-up rattle-trap! Why not take a look at some of those new Japanese cars? They're well-made and get good gas mileage. That's important with this Energy Crisis and the price of gas inching up every day. Why, by the end of the summer it might be almost a dollar a gallon!"
Brian pulled away and carefully removed Ron's arm from around his neck. He didn't like it when Ron got too chummy. And he didn't like Ron calling him 'Baby.' It didn't seem to matter to Ron that Brian had been hooked up with Justin for a year and a half and that Ron himself was now re-married -- and to Justin's mother!
Brian had discovered that the best way to deal with Ron was to be as emotionless as possible. Businesslike. Dispassionate. Which was difficult to do with a man you had lived, worked, and slept with for eight years.
He and Ron had had a number of explosive arguments in the days leading up to Ron and Jennifer's wedding. Fighting about Brian's participation as Ron's Best Man. Fighting about Brian's book. Fighting about money. Just fighting about anything. Justin gleefully referred to these shrill altercations as "screaming queen cat fights."
"That's inaccurate," Brian had countered to his lover. "I'm not a queen and neither is Ron. Therefore we can't possibly have a cat fight."
But Justin laughed loudly. "For a couple of non-queens you guys sure do a good impression of two Quad queens having a Movie Night brawl over a feather boa!"
After that Brian tried to keep things between Ron and himself on a more even keel. Even when he wanted to yell at Ron or punch his lights out, Brian thought about Justin's remarks and pulled himself back. Flattened his emotions. Closed his eyes. Counted to ten. Whatever the fuck it took.
"So when can you get me the insurance?" Brian asked between chews.
Ron sniffed. Brian was chewing on a stick of Juicy Fruit. Ron hated that. He knew that Brian was trying to stop smoking, but chomping on gum constantly was even more annoying than smoke.
But Ron also understood when things were beyond his control. When Brian was beyond his control. And this road trip was simply another step that Brian was inexorably taking away from Ron and completely out of his influence.
"Baby... I mean Brian -- listen to me," Ron said smoothly. "I only want you and the kid to be safe. I hate to think of you on the road in an old, broken-down car. What it something happens and you two are out in the middle of nowhere? A newer car is less likely to give you problems."
"I guess," Brian sighed, running his fingers through his thick hair. It was getting long. Maybe a little too long. He'd need to get a trim before they left. "But this is the car I want, Ron. You said that my money was MINE. I balked a little at paying $750 for the car, but not because I didn't think it was worth it. I've barely spent even a hundred dollars on anything for myself in my entire life, let alone hundreds. But this is something important to me. It's more than just a car. It's freedom. Can you understand that?"
Ron bit his lip thoughtfully. He did understand what Brian meant. How vital it was for Brian to make his own decisions and feel that he was no longer a prisoner. No longer locked up physically, but also mentally.
"Yes, I can, Brian," Ron said. "I'll call my mechanic and ask him to give the Thunderbird a complete examination. And I'll have Doris call my insurance agent, too. We'll get everything set for you."
Ron paused for a moment, staring at Brian. He looked even more beautiful than he had when he was 21. Then Brian had been a skinny, awkward kid. Unformed. In awe of Ron in every way. But now he was a man. Tall. Strong. And strong-willed, too. The way Ron had raised him to be. It was ironic that Ron's own teachings had come around to bite him so thoroughly on the ass.
"Thanks," Brian said slowly. He was still slightly suspicious of Ron's motivations. But he wasn't blocking their trip to Florida. That was a good thing. Ron had enough on his plate with a new marriage, taking over the PLD, and also coordinating the legal issues surrounding Brian's book.
That had been one of the things that surprised Brian in connection with his book. Things that had nothing to do with the actual writing and editing process. All the forms to be filled out. Releases to be obtained. Names of characters that had to changed. Even characters who had to be disguised in certain ways. The publishers were very aware that Brian's manuscript contained many explosive elements and they didn't want to deal with lawsuits on top of all the other controversial issues the book contained. But they -- along with Ron and everyone else involved in the publication -- thought that 'The Quad: A Prisoner's Story' would be a best seller, so it was well worth all the trouble.
"I have to be going," said Brian. He felt uncomfortable when he was alone with Ron too long. It brought back too many memories. Distressing memories, but also too many happy memories. Those were almost harder to think about than the sad ones. Because things had changed so much between them. They had become two very different people going in two very different directions. "Justin and I have a lot of things to do before we leave town."
"Of course," said Ron, escorting Brian to the door of his office. "I'll call you about the insurance. And the mechanic." Ron hesitated, but then he kissed Brian gently on the cheek. "Take care, Baby."
Brian nodded. "You too, Ron."
And then he was gone.
Posted June 23, 2006.