This is Chapter 75 of the "Queer Realities" series.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, and features Justin Taylor and Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Farewell to the Pitts. Pittsburgh. May 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit.
"I should've known
From your first caress,
And we should've known,
But how could we guess
That we would be owned
By this beautiful mess?
This beautiful, beautiful mess..."
(Walker Talmadge III)
When I hear my cell jangle first thing Monday morning I pick it up and look at the display. Adam Bernstein, M.D. My old pal, Doctor Clap.
"Hey, Adam," I say, lowering my voice. Justin is in the bathroom, drying off from his shower, while Gus is parked in front of the television, engrossed in the Cartoon Network. "So, what's the word?"
"Your tests just came back and I know you wanted me to call you right away." The voice pauses. "You're clear, Brian. No sign of infection."
It's good news, I suppose. But that's not the entire story. Not by a longshot. "What about Justin?"
"May I speak with him?" Adam says, all business.
"He's just getting dressed," I say. "Can't you tell me?"
"You know this is confidential information between me and my patient," he says firmly.
"But I'm his partner," I inform him with enough edge to remind him who he's dealing with. "In case you've forgotten."
"Brian, don't come down too hard on this kid," Adam says. "You've made mistakes, too. Remember that."
Now I get it. Adam thinks I'm going to chew Justin a new asshole because he's got the clap and I don't.
"It's not like that!" I say. "We're not a couple of fucking breeders! I'm only interested in his health. Wait a second." I set down the phone and walk over to the bedroom steps. "Justin! You have a call!"
He walks out wearing jeans and tee shirt, his feet bare. He's damp and flushed from the shower. I point to the cellphone sitting on the coffee table. He picks it up like it's going to bite him. He must have an idea who'd be calling him on my cell -- and why.
"Yes?" He stands there as still as a stone, holding the phone to his ear. He listens. He was already pretty certain of the outcome. This is only the confirmation. "I understand. Yes, I'll have a follow-up exam in Los Angeles." Long pause as he listens intently. "I will, I promise. Thanks, Dr. Bernstein."
He hands the cell back to me. "I appreciate you calling personally, Adam."
"No trouble, Brian," he replies. "Have a safe trip -- both of you."
Justin sits down on the sofa and stares into space, thinking.
I go into the kitchen and put the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. Then I clean up a little, wiping milk spills and a few stray Cheerios that Gus left behind. But the whole time I'm watching Justin. Watching and waiting.
"You want to take Gus to the mall today?" I ask, finally breaking the awkward silence. "If the clothes that Lindsay sent over here with him are an indication of his general wardrobe, then he needs a major fashion update."
Justin turns and gazes at me. He knows I'm trying to avoid talking about Adam's call, but I can't tell what the fuck he's thinking. Or what he's feeling. This kind of shit is still hard for me -- knowing what the other person wants me to do or say. As well as I think I know Justin, it's still difficult for me sometimes. So I play the game. We both play it.
"What time do we have to take Gus back?"
I shrug, keeping it nonchalant. "Sometime before dinner. I didn't give Lindz a specific time or else she'd be standing in front of Muncher Mansion with a fucking stopwatch, waiting to see if we're three seconds late. She's getting to be as big a pain-in-the-ass as Mel these days."
"I doubt that's possible," he sighs.
"Let's get a move on, then." I walk over to the sofa and touch the back of his head with the tips of my fingers. The scent of his lemon shampoo fills my head. "You okay?" I ask softly.
Justin nods. "Yeah, I'm all right." He pauses. "My test came back positive."
"No problem," I tell him, probably a little too quickly. "You got the shot. Keep your dick under wraps for another week and everything will be dandy."
He looks up at me. "You were clear, weren't you? Dr. Bernstein must have told you, so don't deny it."
"It doesn't matter what I was," I state flatly. "We both got treated. In a week it'll all be ancient history."
"I'm glad you weren't infected," he says in a whisper. "I'm glad that I... I didn't give you... anything." His voice catches.
"Shit happens," I remind him. Then I grab his arm and pull him off the sofa. "You deal with it and move on. It only means you're going to owe me big time for all those lost fucks."
"Have you been keeping track?" Finally, a slight smile.
"You bet your ass I've been keeping track!" I press my lips against his still damp hair. "Or I should say that my dick is keeping track."
"Brian, I'm so fucking sorry that..."
"Shut the fuck up!" I command.
Justin looks up at me. "No apologies, right?"
I can feel his dick beginning to get hard. No, Kinney. Cannot. Must wait a week. "Sometimes you have to know when to apologize. But that's part of being the best fucking queer you can be. Knowing when to admit you were wrong. And knowing when to let it go."
That's when I kiss him. Just gently on the lips. That's all that's allowed -- for now.
But I don't have a chance to pull myself back, because Gus comes running over and begins tugging at the two of us. "No, Daddy! No mushy stuff!"
"Busted," Justin laughs.
"Christ," I mutter. "Mel must have this kid trained."
"Then we'll have to retrain him," says Justin. "Remember when you told me that one day Gus would need the masculine influence that only a father can provide?"
I shake my head. "Do you really remember every stupid thing I've ever said?"
"Pretty much," he admits. "Someone has to." He pauses and leans against me. "At least I can remember things now. Thank God."
"Right," I tell him, putting my arms around him.
Yeah, thank God.
The next two days are a fucking tornado of activity. Packing. Making arrangements for the loft -- Justin's friend Marshall is going to 'house-sit' so he doesn't have to spend the entire summer with his parents in Scranton. Making calls to New York for Cynthia's job hunt. And saying the requisite goodbyes to all and sundry.
"Are you going to call Michael?" Deb prods when Justin and I stop at the diner on Wednesday morning before we head over to see Jennifer. "He knows you're going and he'll feel very hurt if you leave without talking to him."
That is one farewell I've been putting off purposefully. Probably because that's exactly what it feels like -- a real farewell and not simply waving bye-bye for now. I know things truly will never be the same from now on. It's that moment when everything in my life is about to change. I know it, Deb knows it, and Michael must know it, too. Maybe that's why we've been avoiding each other.
"I'd never leave town without saying goodbye to Michael!" I huff back at her. Then I catch Justin and Deb exchanging glances, obviously thinking about at least two times when I left town without saying goodbye to anyone.
But that's all in the past. No more running. And no more ridiculous excuses. For real.
"I think you should go over to the store and talk to Michael by yourself," says Justin as we walk out of the diner. "He might not appreciate me tagging along."
"You're not tagging along," I point out. "You're not my fucking stalker. You're not the trick who stayed too long. You're my partner. I think Michael knows that by now. He's a big boy -- he can deal with reality."
"He's had enough time to get used to the idea." Justin opens the passenger door of the Jeep and climbs in. "He's known we were a couple longer than you have."
"You're probably right about that." I get in the driver's seat and crank up the engine. It's sounding a little rough this morning. Probably needs a tune-up. "Which reminds me -- I don't want that fucking Marshall driving the Jeep while we're gone. It's one thing for him to babysit the loft, but I don't want him appropriating all my shit, lock, stock, and barrel!"
Justin laughs. "He won't! It's not like Marshall will be throwing orgies every weekend."
"He better not," I sniff. "That's MY prerogative."
Red Cape Comics isn't too far from Liberty Avenue, so we're there in a flash. I pull up in front, but the store is still closed.
"That's funny. Michael should already be open for business, serving the nerds and dweebs of Pittsburgh with all their superhero needs and jerk-off fantasies."
"Maybe he opens late on Wednesdays?" Justin suggests as he peers in through the window.
"Who the fuck knows?" I take out my cell and hit Michael's number. But it goes to voicemail. "Hey, Mikey -- I'm over at the store. Where the fuck are you? We're leaving for L.A. tomorrow. Call me ASAP! Over and out." I flip the phone shut. "That should get his attention."
"Brian Kinney -- always the sweet talker!" Justin snickers.
"Fuck you, Boy Wonder!" I rev the Jeep. "Next stop -- your mom's place!"
Jennifer Taylor opens the front door of her condo as soon as she sees us pull into the driveway. But there's another car already parked there -- a silver Boxster. There's something about that car. It looks hot, but only jerks and assholes seem to drive them.
"Hey, Mom!" Justin calls as he jumps out of the Jeep. He eyes the strange car and then glances back at me and shrugs. "You have company?"
Jennifer's expression is serious. "Justin, your father is here. He stopped by to drop off some things for Molly. But when he heard you were coming over he decided to stay."
Justin's face is stony. "I don't want to talk to him," he states bluntly. "And I don't know why he'd want to see me now. He hasn't seen or spoken to me in almost a year." Justin turns and looks at me for support, so I step up next to him. I know all three of us are remembering last Fourth of July at the country club when Craig made a total ass of himself.
"He's still your father," says Jennifer. "Never forget that, honey."
"Even when he seems to forget I'm his son?" Justin counters.
"Justin, please let's not fight right before you're going to leave town," Jennifer pleads. "If I'd known your father was going to stay I'd never have told him you were coming over! But if he really wants to see you, maybe it would be a good thing for you to speak with him."
"No fucking way," Justin mutters.
Justin and Jennifer are at a stand-off and I can just imagine Craig lurking inside the condo, taking it all in from behind the window curtain.
So, of course, Kinney steps into it.
"If you want to talk to your old man, I'll take a powder," I offer. "I'll come back and get you in a half hour, okay?"
"No!" Justin exclaims, grabbing my arm and squeezing it. "That's total bullshit! If my dad had wanted to talk to me any time during the past year, he knew how to contact me. He could have gotten my number from Mom or called PIFA, but he didn't bother. So now he shows up? Now he wants to see me?" Justin turns and looks at the condo. "I'm right here, Dad! I'm here and so is my partner. So if you have something to say to me, then come out and say it to my face!"
To my surprise the front door opens and Craig Taylor emerges and stands there on the top step, his face grim and his arms crossed in front of his chest in defiance. He looks older and smaller than I remembered. Diminished somehow. Or maybe it's because Justin looks more like a man in comparison. A strong and empowered gay man. And Craig can never match that -- or defeat it.
Craig's eyes brush across his son -- and then rest on me, his mouth twisted in disgust. "I thought you might have come to your senses, Justin," he says, but he's looking directly at me. "I see that hasn't happened."
"Why, Dad?" Justin lashes back. "Because I'm still with Brian? Wake up, Dad! I'm a queer. I've always been a queer and I always will be. And Brian is my partner. So deal with it!"
"That's one thing I'll never accept -- so there's nothing for me to deal with," Craig says simply.
I can literally feel Justin deflate as he exhales raggedly. I don't even think he was aware that he was holding his breath waiting for his father to make some kind of gesture. But it's the wrong gesture -- a gesture of rejection. And I know exactly how shitty that feels. I tighten my grip on his arm to remind him that I'm right here.
"Why can't you accept me for what I am?" he replies wearily. "You used to be proud of my accomplishments. So proud when I brought home a perfect report card or won an award for my art. But that wasn't about me, was it? It was about YOU and your ego. About how your son was a reflection of you -- until you realized I was a fag, isn't that right?"
Craig doesn't reply. He only stares back at the two of us like we're the enemy. And I guess we are. The enemy of his narrow-minded, fucked-up version of masculinity.
Justin turns to his mother, searching her face for approval. To Jennifer's credit, she nods at him. Maybe she's not exactly happy that he's queer or that he's with me, but she'll defend him until the end. Support him. Love him. Which is more than I can say for my own fucking mother.
"Mom came to see my pieces at the Austin Gallery and the Warhol Museum," Justin continues with renewed energy. "She's proud of me. I know she is. I didn't get my work accepted for those shows because of my sexuality, or because of your connections at the Arcadian Country Club, or because of Brian's fame. I got them accepted because people who know art thought they were good. But you never came to see my stuff. Because you really don't give a shit about me anymore, do you, Dad?"
Craig's eyes narrow and his face gets red. "You think I should be proud of you? You want me to be proud of seeing your naked ass plastered all over the tabloids? To be proud of the fact that the world knows that MY son takes it up the ass from this... this goddamn child molester and drug addict?" He gestures at me. And I can clearly see the look in his eyes.
And now I understand completely. Justin isn't the one who Craig hates. It's me. He really and truly hates me. I'm the one he blames for stealing his son's love. For fucking him and making him a fag. And then for telling the whole world about it. And as long as Justin and I are together, he'll never accept his own son. Never.
Well, fuck him. Fuck him to hell and back!
I take a deep breath. "We need to get going." I take Justin's hand and turn him around. Away from the hatred on his father's face. "We have a lot to do before we leave tomorrow. Right, Justin?"
Justin looks up at me. His father is still standing there, but Justin doesn't look at him. "Right, Brian. A lot to do."
Jennifer steps forward and gives her son a hug. "Have a safe trip, darling." She hesitates for a moment and then hugs me, too. "Keep an eye on him while you're out in the desert, won't you, Brian? I mean, aren't there snakes and things there?"
"Jesus!" Justin rolls his eyes. "I won't get bitten by a snake, Mom! Don't worry! I'll e-mail you every day, okay?"
"Okay." Jennifer smiles at him. Her pride in him is real. And unconditional. And so is her love. "Goodbye, boys. And good luck."
We get into the Jeep and head back to the loft. Neither of us looks back.
When we get home Justin collects the mail while I call the elevator down. "Here's something for you, Brian." He passes me a small padded envelope. "It looks like a CD. The return address is Springhurst."
I turn the mailer over, perusing the carefully printed address. "Maybe Gorowitz is sending me his 'Greatest Hits' collection. You'll love his cover versions of 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' and 'They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha Ha!'"
But I already know what it is. Walker Talmadge e-mailed that he was sending me something he says I'd 'inspired.' I can only imagine what little gem might be contained within.
Of course the minute we walk through the door, Justin wants to play the thing. I slide the CD-R out of the envelope. It's blank. But also enclosed is a single sheet of expensive ivory writing paper. I recognize Walker's spiky handwriting. "For my Dark Prince and your Princess -- Love, W," it says.
"Who's your Princess?" huffs Justin, peering at the paper.
"Three guesses." I hand it to Justin. "Put it on and let's hear the damage."
Justin turns on the B & O system and slips in the CD. It's Walker singing and playing the piano solo, but the song rings out clearly. The guy sounds good. Better than good, actually. You can see why he's a star. I can picture him making this in the rec room at Springhurst, setting up his microphone and computer and then singing, probably late at night when he's supposed to be in his room. But you can always get around the rules if you want to. If you're famous enough. Or hot enough. Or persistent enough. That's something I know a little about, too.
"I should've known
From your first caress,
And we should've known,
But how could we guess
That we would be owned
By this beautiful mess?
This beautiful, beautiful mess.
You never told me
For you couldn't confess,
Even as you'd hold me
Like we'd both been blessed
By this beautiful mess.
A beautiful, beautiful mess.
I can't stay with you,
But I also can't leave,
And you can't admit that
It's me who you need --
But that's the real test.
I should have let go,
That would've been best,
When you couldn't show
Me a place we could rest
In this beautiful mess --
We're a beautiful, beautiful mess."
"It's a good song," Justin pronounces as the song fades and the CD ends.
"It is," I have to admit. Beautiful -- and too true. "Want to bet that we hear it on Walker's big 'comeback' album?"
"I think we can count on it," Justin says. "Are we, Brian? A beautiful mess? Still?"
"There are worse things to be," I rationalize. "Let's focus on the beautiful part and leave the rest for another time, okay?"
"Okay," he agrees.
There's a little bit of salad and some leftover Thai in the fridge, so we finish it up for dinner. I check my cell, but Michael still hasn't called me back. I'll try again in the morning before we leave for the airport. Or send him an e-mail from L.A. Whatever. He has his life and I've got mine. As long as he's happy, that's all that matters.
"Hey," I say to Justin as we're putting the dishes into the dishwasher. "It's our last night in the fabulous Pitts. We still can't fuck, so what do you want to do? Take a turn around the mall? Play Scrabble? Watch CNN?"
Justin grins. "You know what I really want to do? More than anything?"
"What?" I say, leaning him up against the kitchen counter.
"Babylon," he replies.
"Ah, Babylon!" I say, grinning. That's my boy! "Let's get all dressed up and go for it."
So I put on a pair of vintage jeans and a black silk shirt with a dark red unconstructed Versace linen jacket. Justin wears his brown leather pants and an Indian-style peacock blue shirt that he got at the Portobello Road Market in London last year. He hasn't worn that shirt in a long time -- it's made of thin muslin and it's been a long, cold winter. But now we're on the verge of summer. The fucking freeze is over. For real.
We stand in front of the mirror, checking ourselves out.
"We look hot," I declare. "I'd fuck me. What about you?"
"I'd fuck you, too, Brian," he laughs.
"You're a brat, you know that?"
"I know," he says smugly. "But I'd still fuck you."
"Fuck you, too," I say. And we almost don't get out the door.
But cooler heads prevail and we head for Babylon.
It's a typical night. The lights are blinding, the music is too loud, it's too hot, and there are too many sweaty guys bumping against each other on the dance floor. But those are the good things. That's what it's all about.
"Hey, Brian!" I hear someone call.
Then it's a cacophony of voices.
"Justin! Over here!"
"Brian Fucking Kinney! Can I buy you a drink?"
"Will you sign my arm/my stomach/my dick? Pleeeease?"
Yes, so many familiar faces.
But not familiar enough. Until...
"Brian." Justin touches my arm. "There's Emmett."
He's leaning against the main bar, his head nodding with the music, a smile on his face.
"Hey, Em!" Justin calls.
"Hey, Baby!" Emmett cries, hugging him. "And you, too, Brian. I thought you guys were getting ready for your trip?"
"We're all packed," I tell him. "Just taking one last break before we call it a night."
I look around the bar. The bartender on duty is a muscular guy with a shaved head. He looks totally butch, but I remember that he likes to call for his mommy while he has a 10-inch dildo up his ass.
"Give me a Perrier with a twist and a Rolling Rock," I order for myself and Justin. I ask Emmett what he'd like, and then add a Cosmo to the order.
"So," I say, taking a sip of the Perrier. It's all right, but it'll never take the place of a double Absolut. "No Ted tonight? I thought he'd be up in the Tweakers Gallery with all the other crystal queens."
"Ted isn't here." Emmett sips his Cosmo and makes a lip-smacking noise. "And he won't be for a while. I hope."
Does that mean that Ted has finally decided to make a break out of Loser Land? "Don't tell me...."
Emmett looks more than a little smug. He shouldn't be so fucking self-righteous. I remember when I first met him and Tina was his drug of choice. "He checked into rehab yesterday, thanks to some help from the former Father Tim. He called a good friend of his at Social Services and they were able to take Ted into their residential program."
Ah, Tim. He's like the fucking Good Deed Fairy. Once a priest, always a priest. Putting people on the straight-and-narrow is his calling in life. I suppose someone has to do it.
"That's great news, Em!" Justin exclaims. "The last time I saw Ted he looked awful."
"Crystal is a bitch," I say, thinking of Walker Talmadge and everyone else up at Springhurst. And myself, too. Because I can't pretend I wasn't one of them. Or that I'll always be one of them. An addict. "He's got a long road ahead of him."
Emmett looks at me seriously and leans in close. "I know. As long as it'll help him?"
"It will," I say. Brian Kinney, the Voice of Experience.
I sip the Perrier, but it only reminds me that I'm still officially "on probation." If I wanted to, I could have a real drink and it wouldn't do me any harm. But it's the thought of where it might lead. Can I have one shot without wanting three more? Smoke one joint without having to get completely stoned? Fuck one random guy without deciding that I have to fuck every guy in the place? Those are questions I still have to find the answers to.
But not tonight.
I put down my glass and grab Justin. Here's something I don't have to deny myself. One pleasure that can only do me good the more I indulge in it.
"Come on, Sunshine. I think we have at least one more dance in us."
Justin throws back his head and laughs. "Only one more? I don't think so." He moves up against me and touches my neck with his fingers. Rubs the vein that throbs there. The gesture makes me slightly giddy. "We still have a lot of dances to dance before we're finally through, Brian."
I look into his eyes and know he's right.
I put my arms around him. "So let's start now."
And we do.
After all, we have all the time in the world.
"Beautiful Mess" graphic by Every9seconds.
©Gaedhal, July 2006.
Posted July 31, 2006.