Go to all chapters of "Medium Security" and "The Outsiders".
"Excuse me for a minute," Justin said to his mother.
"Certainly, honey," said Jennifer, patting her son on the shoulder.
But instead of heading over to talk to Brian, Justin slipped into the kitchen and out the back door. He leaned against the dumpster in the alley and began taking deep breaths, trying to calm himself. His therapist had given him some breathing exercises to do whenever he felt a panic attack coming on. Close your eyes. Count to ten slowly while you breathe. In and out. Slowly.
The back door opened, the old hinges creaking.
Justin opened his eyes.
"Why are you hiding out here?" asked Ron. "Brian is looking for you."
Justin felt a shudder go through him.
"It isn't nice to leave your guests waiting," Ron continued. "Aren't you going to help your mother carry all your gifts to the car?"
"Don't tell me what to do, Ron," Justin hissed. "You aren't my fucking father!"
"No," Ron snapped back. "But I'm your stepfather, so I'd appreciate it if you spoke a little more respectfully to me."
"Fuck you!" Justin turned away and gripped the corner of the dumpster. Count to ten. Breathe. Count to ten. Breathe.
"What the hell is your problem with me?" asked Ron. He was standing right next to Justin. Justin could feel his hot breath on the back of his neck. "You'd think I hadn't spent the better part of a year trying to get your fat little ass out of prison. Or helped you with the deposit and rent for your apartment." Ron paused. "Or gotten Brian out of the joint, too. For that alone I would think you'd be eternally grateful. But I see that with Mr. Justin Taylor no good deed goes unpunished."
"Yeah," said Justin. "You really did that for me? You got Brian out of Stanton all for me? For yourself, you mean!"
"No," Ron said coolly. "I got Brian out of the Quad for Brian. For justice. Because it was the right thing to do. So you are correct. It had nothing to do with you. Or with me."
"Bullshit!" Justin spat. "It was for you, Ron! Did you really think Brian would go running into your arms the minute he was outside? Because he didn't! And he isn't going to -- ever! So stay away from him! Keep your hands off my lover! I fucking mean it!"
Ron stared at Justin with his icy blue eyes. "You're so jealous of me you can taste it. Am I right, little boy?"
"Don't call me 'little boy'!" said Justin, his voice shaking. "I'm not a little boy! I'm a man! Never forget that!"
"You're not a man," Ron scoffed. "You're a punk and you'll always be a punk. That's what you were born to be and that's what you are. It doesn't matter whether you're inside or outside, Justin. You think like a punk. You take it up the ass like a punk. So get used to it."
"Fuck you, Ron," Justin whispered again. "I'm no punk! And I'm not jealous of you. How could I be jealous of you? You're fucking pathetic! You're the jealous one because I have Brian -- and you don't!"
"Oh, you're jealous all right," said Ron. He took out a pack of Marlboros and lit one, breathing in the smoke and then blowing it out through his nose. "Because I had Baby for eight years. Had him all to myself in a way you'll never have."
"Don't call Brian 'Baby'!" Justin bristled. "He fucking hates that!"
Ron shrugged. "Suit yourself. I bow to your superior knowledge of Mr. Kinney. Brian, then. But it doesn't matter what I call him. The truth is that I know Brian in ways you'll never know him. I know things about him that he would never share with another human being -- not even YOU, little boy. I shared things with him that you can never imagine. That no one could ever imagine." Ron leaned closer to Justin until the smoke from his cigarette stung Justin's eyes. "And you can't stand that, can you? Can't stand the fact that you'll always be shut out of all those years Brian and I were together. Me and Baby. And you can't stand the fact that I'm still here. That I'll always be here. Always."
Justin squeezed his eyes shut. "Fuck you," he repeated. Breathe. Try to breathe. "Fuck you."
Ron laughed. "Curse away, little boy. Stamp your little foot and get all pissy. That's what a punk does, after all."
Justin opened his eyes and glared at Ron, blues eyes to blue eyes. "What did you whisper to Brian when you came into the diner?" he demanded. "Tell me what you said to him!"
"Why should I tell you?" Ron smiled. "You can ask Brian if you want to. But you'll never really know if what he tells you is the truth, will you? Because Brian and I have secrets you'll never be able to penetrate. And we always will."
"Stay away from Brian!" said Justin. "Or you'll be sorry! So fucking sorry!"
"I'll be sorry? What are you going to do to me, Justin? Punch me out?" Ron asked. "Be fair -- haven't I given you your space with Brian? Haven't I given you time with him? And this trip, too. I was the one who convinced your mother -- my lovely wife -- that it was a good thing. And it is a good thing. For Brian. He's my main concern. It will give him a real taste of freedom. And also help him build up some confidence. Brian will need it when his book comes out. He'll need some self-confidence then. And he'll also need to me. To help him. And to protect him."
"I can help Brian!" Justin shot back. "I can protect Brian! He doesn't need you!"
Ron watched Justin for a moment. He took another drag on his cigarette. It tasted bitter. Brian was right to try to quit smoking. It was a nasty habit. But it also calmed Ron. Focused him.
"You? Protect Brian? I don't think so," Ron said harshly. "That's your real problem, isn't it, Justin? Guilt. You're full of guilt."
"I am not," Justin mumbled.
"Oh, but you are," Ron returned. "If I'd been in the Quad then Brian never would have been stabbed. He wouldn't have come so close to dying. You must think about that every time you see that awful scar, don't you? That scar that mars his otherwise perfect body. That scar he got defending you. If I'd still been in the Quad the low-riders would never have dared to touch my punk. I would've seen that Cisco was dealt with before he ever came within breathing distance of Baby. But you were the weak link, Justin. You were the lure that brought him right to the low-riders. You're the reason Brian was almost killed. I'm sure you think about that every night when you see Brian naked. I know I'm right, little boy."
Justin shrank back against the dumpster. "Go away! Just go away! Leave us alone! Can't you do that? Can't you?" Justin put his hands over his face, trying to block out images of blood and darkness. Horrible images he could never truly erase.
Ron was right. He was the reason Brian had been hurt. Scarred. It was his weakness. His fault. He'd never get that out of his head.
Brian was standing there in the alley, frowning.
"Here you are, kid," Brian said. "Your mother said you probably went to the bathroom, but you never came back."
"I think I'll go in and see if my wife needs any help," said Ron. He gave Brian an enigmatic look. Then Ron tossed the butt of his cigarette on the ground and crushed it with the heel of his shoe before he went inside.
Brian watched Ron retreat into the diner. Then he turned to Justin. "He's gone now. You can tell me what's really going on."
Justin swallowed. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
"Nothing sure seems like something," said Brian. "What are you and Ron cooking up behind my back?"
"I said nothing!" Justin lashed out. But then his face crumbled. "Nothing," he sobbed.
Brian grabbed Justin into his arms and held him against his chest. "Whatever it might be, it really is nothing, Justin," Brian murmured. "If you want to tell me, fine. But if you don't then it's not important. The only important thing is us, okay?" Brian wiped away a drop of salty moisture from Justin's cheek. "Okay?"
"Okay," Justin nodded. "Brian, what did Ron say to you? When you two came into the diner? And you smiled."
Brian raised his eyebrow. "What did Ron say? When we walked in?" Brian thought for a moment. "He said, 'Wait until Justin sees the new cassette player that Benny installed in the Thunderbird.' That's all he said."
"Cassette player?" Justin sniffed.
"Yeah," said Brian. "I bought it this morning and Ron and I took it over to have it put into the T-bird while his mechanic was checking it out. Now we're really all set for our trip! But we'll need to buy some tapes to play in the car."
"I'm all set for our trip, too," Justin said, his voice stronger. "I only want to get out of here! To get away. Do you know what I mean? Is that what you want, too, Brian?"
Brian kissed Justin in the alley, leaning him back against the dirty dumpster. "Amen," he said. It was like a prayer against his lover's mouth. "Amen."
Brian had wanted a good night's sleep in order to get an early start for their trip to Florida tomorrow.
So why was it after 2:00 a.m. and why he was still awake? And, more importantly, why were he and Justin in a gay disco?
Thumpa, thumpa, thumpa.
Brian's poor head was splitting in half.
"We are family! I got all my sisters with me!"
They must have played that goddamn song five times already. And a song by The Village People, 'Go West!' at least as many times. Fucking disco music! Brian felt like going up to the DJ booth, ripping the door open, and playing a real song! Something by The Rolling Stones or The Doors or The Velvet Underground. But they probably didn't have anything like that in the place. If they did, the DJ certainly hadn't played it.
Well, thought Brian, it was worth a try.
He set his unfinished bottle of Rolling Rock on the bar and made his way through the crowd to the DJ booth. The booth was on a platform overlooking the dance floor, which was pulsing flashing lights with every thumpa of the beat. Brian could see Justin in the middle of that floor, his shirt off, dancing with his eyes closed. He was having a good time, so why couldn't Brian? Brian shook his head in resignation.
"Hey!" Brian shouted up at the booth, trying to be heard above the din.
The DJ looked over and saw a very hot man in faded jeans, a plain white tank top, and shaggy, unstyled hair. He didn't look like a slick New York-style disco queen or a San Francisco clone. No, he looked more like a normal guy-type guy. A workman. Maybe even a bit of a hippie. The DJ liked that. He stood out in the crowd like a lion among the lambs.
"What can I do for you, handsome?" the DJ asked. It never hurt to flirt. That's what Babylon was all about. Hooking up for the night.
Jesus, thought Brian. Everyone is cruising. Always cruising.
"Do you think you can play... something else?" Brian pleaded. "Anything else! I mean, how many fucking songs by The Village People or The BeeGees can anyone listen to in one night?"
"Honey, this is Babylon! Guys come here to dance," said the DJ, laughing. "So I play dance music! What do you think this is? Woodstock?"
But Brian wasn't laughing. "I only wish. Don't you have any Hendrix? Morrison? The Who? People can dance to that!"
The DJ only shrugged. "Not here, Butch. This is a GAY club -- in case you hadn't noticed."
"Yeah, I noticed," Brian grumbled. "But who the fuck says that all fags have to like the fucking Village People? That's ridiculous!"
The DJ leaned down to Brian. Yum. He smelled like clean sweat. No cologne at all. Yes, this man was hot. Real queen's bait. A daddy in the making. "Next thing you'll be telling me that you don't care for Judy. Or Barbra! Or Bette!"
"I fucking hate them all!" Brian returned. "I guess I give up."
"Hang on," said the DJ. "I might have something I can play for you. I'll take a look. In the meanwhile, can I buy you a drink?"
"Thanks, but no thanks," said Brian. "I think I'll retrieve my boyfriend and hit the road -- literally!"
Brian walked away from the DJ booth and pushed his way into the middle of the crowd of writhing, wriggling bodies. He'd never seen so much glitter in one place before. It was on the boys, on the floor, on every surface. It was even floating in any drink left unattended for even a moment. Glitter. That pretty much summed up the entire Babylon experience as far as Brian was concerned. Shiny bits of nothing.
"Hey!" Brian shouted as he came up behind Justin. "Sunshine!"
"There you are!" Justin grinned broadly when he turned and saw his lover.
Justin had been dancing his ass off all night and it was great! It felt fabulous to let off some steam and release all the stress he'd been feeling. He was sweaty and exhilarated and more than a little drunk. Two Black Russians, a shot of tequila, and a bottle of beer was more alcohol than he'd had to drink since he was a senior at St. James Academy. "Brian! These are my friends. They come into the diner all the time. This is Lucas and his boyfriend Matt."
Brian scanned the two kids Justin was dancing with. They looked like skinny, over-grown high school students with spiky haircuts and tight plastic stretch pants. Their bare, damp torsos were plastered with the glitter that coated everything else. Even Justin had it all over his shoulders and in his golden hair.
"Hi!" said the first kid, Lucas. He reminded Brian of a younger Emmett Honeycutt. "Wanna dance with us?"
"Sorry, but we have to be going," said Brian, taking Justin's elbow gently. "Justin, we've got to get up early tomorrow to leave for Florida."
"Come on! One dance!" Justin begged. "Pretty please?"
It wasn't that Brian wanted to be a fucking stick in the mud, but he truly felt out of place in Babylon. He didn't like the music and he didn't care for the atmosphere. And, frankly, it made him uncomfortable to see Justin having such a good time. It only seemed to underscore the difference in their ages, something that was constantly on Brian's mind. Most of the guys on the dance floor were in their early twenties or even younger. At 31 Brian felt like a cranky old crow surrounded by a flock of giggling peacocks.
"Justin, your boyfriend is a hunk!" swooned Matt. "But are you sure he's really gay? He sure doesn't dress very gay."
"Oh, he's gay all right!" Justin assured the other boy. "I keep trying to get him to go to Sheer Madness and get his hair styled, but he won't do it!"
"What does my fucking hair have to do with being a queer?" Brian demanded. It irked him the way people talked about you when you were standing right next to them. "Or the way I dress? Or the kind of music I like?"
Lucas smirked. "How else do you know you're really one of the Boys, darling?"
That fucking steamed Brian. "Maybe it's the way I like to shove my 9-inch dick up a nice, tight asshole that gives me a clue!"
All three boys broke out into peals of laughter at Brian's remark. "He's a HOOT!" yelped Lucas. "I just love your boyfriend to pieces, Justy! I wish Matt and I could find a really butch number to take home with us. But the clubs are full of nothing but queens these days. It's impossible to find a real man anywhere!"
"Maybe if you'd stop looking for someone covered with glitter and a gallon of hair gel you might actually find what you're looking for," Brian retorted. "Justin, let's get the fuck out of here!"
"He was only kidding, Brian," said Justin, suddenly serious. He pulled Brian away from the two other boys. "We were only having fun." Justin noticed the glitter sticking to his arms and tried to brush it off. "We weren't hurting anybody. I'm sorry if you're pissed at me."
Brian looked at Justin's fallen face and felt a tug at his heart. Justin had been through so much in his young life. Yes, he deserved to have a little fun. To dance and laugh with boys his own age. Even if it didn't include Brian.
"I'm sorry, too, Justin. I didn't mean to be an asshole to your friends. It's just that I feel like a fucking alien in this place. Or like an old man."
But Justin took Brian's hand and squeezed it. "Let's go home. I've had enough of my 'Farewell to Pittsburgh' night out. I'm ready to leave now. Really ready."
As they walked towards the exit of Babylon, Brian heard the DJ talking over the sound system. "This one is dedicated to that hot man in the white tee shirt. I still want to buy you a drink, Butch!"
And Brian heard The Clash playing 'I Fought the Law' ringing through the club as he and Justin left it all behind.
Brian's plans to get an early start were doomed from the moment he woke up and tried to get Justin out of bed.
"Rise and shine, Sunshine," Brian whispered, already knowing that it was hopeless to wait for Justin to get up on his own.
"Ouch!" Justin opened one bleary eye. "My head!" he moaned. "Why don't you shoot me now?"
"You're doing a perfect impression of my old man on the morning after the night before," Brian said without irony. "I warned you about those drinks with funny names. You should've stuck to beer."
"But the Black Russians were so good!" Justin insisted, turning over and hiding his throbbing face in the pillow.
"As good as your head feels this morning?" Brian asked, pulling the sheet off Justin's slender body and surveying the damage. "Here's something else that looks good. Yes, just the thing for breakfast."
"Aw," he murmured as Brian trailed his tongue down Justin's back to his plump ass. "That feels... oh my God! Oh!"
"How's that for a hangover cure?" Brian asked, lifting his head. "Is it working?"
"Don't stop now!" Justin urged. "I think my headache is getting better!"
"I ought to patent this cure," Brian laughed, reaching underneath Justin and stroking his hard cock. "But I think it's still illegal in some states. Most states, actually."
Justin got up on his hands and knees. "Fuck me, Brian! Finish the cure! My headache's almost gone."
"We're never going get on the road, are we?" Brian asked.
But still he slicked up his dick with some of the premium lube Debbie had given them as a going away gift. He couldn't resist. Couldn't have stopped himself even if he really wanted to. The idea that he and Justin could fuck any time they want, for as long as they wanted, was intoxicating. No C.O.'s to hide from. No one rattling the door of the cell. No furtive movements in the dark in a narrow bunk under a rough blanket. This was their apartment, their room, their bed. They had all the time in the world.
"Jesus," he gasped. He'd come faster than he expected. Then Justin also came, Brian's hand wrapped around his cock. "That was good."
But it was getting late. Brian got out of bed and raised the shade on the window. Justin winced. "That's too bright!"
"It's a bright, hot day," said Brian. "Looks perfect for driving. So get up, get your shower, and finish packing. I'd like to get on the road before noon."
Brian had only drunk one cup of coffee and Justin was still drying off when there was a knock at the door. "Who's that?"
"Mom!" said Justin, opening the door. "What are you doing here this morning?"
"I wanted to catch you before you boys left," she replied, strolling into the apartment. "I brought cookies for you to eat on the road." She showed them the tin. "Chocolate chip and peanut butter. They're Ronnie's favorites."
"Cookies," Brian huffed. "Always cookies!"
"Thanks, Mom," said Justin, taking the tin and giving her a quick kiss. "I'm sure we'll get hungry while we're driving."
Jennifer smiled at Justin. She noticed that Brian's suitcase was waiting by the door, but that Justin's was still open on the living room floor. She was trying to remain calm at the thought of her son and Brian taking off for who knows where.
"Do you boys have any reservations for tonight? And what about when you get to Florida? Where are you going to stay? Is there a number where I can reach you?"
Justin sighed. He'd already explained this to his mother ten times.
"Mom, we have our maps and we're going to take things as they come. Tonight we'll stay in a motel, but I don't know where. And when we get to Florida we'll play it by ear."
"But darling...," Jennifer began.
"It'll be fine, Mrs. Taylor," Brian reassured her. Then he stopped. "I mean, Mrs. Rosenblum." Even though he'd been the Best Man at the wedding, saying that still felt odd. "Jennifer," he added. That sounded better. "Justin will call you tonight and I'll make sure he keeps you posted along the way. Okay?"
Jennifer gave Brian a forced smile. "I appreciate that, Brian. And Justin, I... I only want to know where you are. I get worried. The world is so dangerous!"
"I understand, Mom," said Justin, glancing at Brian and rolling his eyes. "I'll keep in touch. I promise."
"Oh, I almost forgot!" said Jennifer, reaching into her purse. "I saw this at the drug store last night and had to get it for you, honey. For your trip."
Jennifer handed her son a small Kodak Instamatic, two boxes of film, and three packages of Flashcubes.
"A camera!" Justin cried. "This is perfect! It'll fit right in my pocket. I'll take loads of pictures so you can see where Brian and I went and what we did. Thanks, Mom."
Jennifer looked like she was about to cry, so Brian stepped in with a cup of coffee, which she sipped while Justin raced around the apartment, shoving last-minute items into his new suitcase.
"Sunshine! Let's get this show on the road," said Brian, impatiently. His own suitcase was half empty. A couple pairs of jeans, some tee shirts, briefs, socks, a razor -- what more did you need? He couldn't imagine what the hell Justin was packing, unless he was taking everything he owned.
"Don't forget to come over and water the plants," Justin instructed his mother as they finally stood by the Thunderbird, ready to go. "And get the mail. And make sure you pay our rent and the phone and utilities while we're gone. And...." Justin couldn't think of anything else. "Do you have your key to the apartment?"
"She's got the key," Brian called. He was already racing the engine. "Now get your butt in the car! Now!"
"Bye, Mom!" said Justin, getting in next to Brian. "I'll call!"
"Goodbye, honey!" Jennifer shouted as she watched the Thunderbird move down Barker Place. "Be careful!"
"Finally!" said Brian, as he turned down Liberty Avenue. "It'll be dark before we even get out of Pennsylvania."
Justin grinned. "But we're on our way now!" He fumbled through a plastic bag and pulled out a cassette. "We need some music to start our trip."
"Okay," said Brian. "Anything BUT The Village People."
Justin pushed the cassette into the player. They had stopped at Record World the night before and stocked up on music to take with them. "This is NOT The Village People!" Justin asserted.
The soaring guitars of Cheap Trick filled the T-bird and poured out the windows.
"Surrender! Surrender! But don't give yourself away! Way.... waaaaaayyyyy!"
Too late for that, thought Brian. We're both already gone.
Posted June 23, 2006.