This is Chapter 44 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "La La Land" , the previous section.
Narrated by Michael Novotny, and featuring Justin Taylor, Debbie Novotny.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin returns from New York City alone.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
I was sitting at the counter, talking to Ma, when Justin came into the diner early Saturday evening.
"Sunshine! I knew you were all right!" She reached over to hug him, but he sort of shied away. "I'll be right back -- I got some customers. Don't you go away, honey."
Justin sat down next to me, pulled some kind of video game out of his jacket and started fooling with it.
"Hey!" I said. "I've been trying to get hold of you all day! I've been calling the loft and not getting anything but the answering machine. And your cellphone must be turned off. I was starting to worry about you, but I couldn't leave the store and go over there. And Ma was staring to get worried, too."
He shrugged. "I'm okay. I'm not a child. I can take care of myself. Besides, I wasn't at the loft anyway."
"Then where have you been? I know Brian left early this morning and I thought that..."
"I was in New York."
Ma set her tray down on the counter. "New York? City?"
"Yeah. I got this there." He set the silver thing on the counter and I realized it was a tiny portable DVD player. He popped up the screen, touched a button and a movie started to play. I saw Keanu Reeves move across the little widescreen.
"My God!" I said. "That is so neat! Can I see it?"
"Where the fuck did you get THAT?"
"Brian. Where else?" His eyes never left the shiny device as I examined it.
"Were you really in New York? What the fuck were you doing there?" Ma demanded.
"Keeping Brian company while he waited for his flight to L.A. We were there for about six hours. Then I flew back to Pittsburgh and took a cab back to the loft. Then I came over here in the Jeep."
"You've had quite a busy travel day," I say, trying out some of the features on the DVD player. I wondered what the thing cost. Plenty, I bet.
"Brian bought me a round-trip ticket this morning when he checked in. Because they wouldn't let me go down to the gate with him to say goodbye." He took the player back from me and ran his hands over it possessively. "So I flew into JFK with him and we waited in the VIP lounge. And he bought me this."
We both gaped at Justin. "Now I've heard everything!" Ma threw up her hands. "Sunshine, can I get you something to eat?"
"No, actually. I ate a lot for lunch at JFK. I ate most of Brian's food, too. As usual."
He just kept playing with the DVD, almost compulsively, hardly looking up at either me or Ma. She caught my eye and made a face. I frowned back at here. Let it go, Ma, I felt like shouting.
"Hey, Boy Wonder -- I thought you could come over to the store and work on some ideas I have for the comic book. I wrote some stuff down. You could tell me what you think -- maybe make a few sketches?"
"Sure. Okay. But I have to stop at my mom's -- I was supposed to go over there this afternoon and I want to explain where I was." He finally looked up at us. "Plus, I have to get my birth certificate."
"Birth certificate? What the fuck do you need THAT for?" Ma said.
"A passport. Brian said I should ask you or Vic how to apply for one. He told me to go first thing Monday morning."
Ma frowned. "A passport, huh? You have to go to the passport office downtown. And you'll need a photograph -- and some copies. I forget what else."
"Maybe I could call Vic. Do you think he would go down there with me?"
"Sure, honey, he'd be happy to go. He'll show you where the office is. I got my first passport ever to go to Italy and Vic did everything."
"Brian said I should ask you guys. You and Vic. That you would help me."
Ma nudged me. "Are you going on a trip, honey? For school, maybe?"
He didn't look up. "I don't know," he mumbled.
"What the fuck do you mean -- you don't know?"
"Well, how can he NOT know whether he's going somewhere if he needs a fucking passport? This sounds like another one of Brian's harebrained ideas."
Justin looked up and glared at Ma. "It isn't harebrained. He has it all figured out, I'm sure. I just don't know the details yet."
"What country are you planning to visit that you need a passport?"
"England -- I think."
"I'm almost positive. Brian said to apply for the passport on Monday. That I needed it as soon as possible. He wouldn't SAY that if he didn't mean it." Justin voice had that tiny little hint of hysteria in it, like when he isn't totally sure about something, but wants to believe it badly. I've heard it a hundred times in his voice since his bashing. I especially heard it when I was staying at the loft. That was the worst time.
"But Sunshine, honey -- you know that Brian isn't exactly the most dependable person...."
"Ma -- shut up!" My mother can do a lot of things, but knowing when to cool it is NOT one of them.
Justin's eyes got hard, like blue flint. "I won't even bother to defend Brian OR explain him to people who don't even WANT to understand." Justin scooped up the DVD player and hopped off the stool. "I'll find my own way to the passport office. Sorry to be any trouble. It seems every time I walk into this fucking diner I have to re-fight the same fucking battle!"
And he stomped out the door.
"That was swift, Ma. Real swift."
"For someone supposedly so concerned about Justin and his feelings, you really know how to make him feel like shit, you know that?"
"I didn't mean to!"
"Can't you see that he was just barely hanging on here -- and you have to start in on Brian? I think that subject should be taboo from now on. I mean for myself, as well. I'm sick of hearing your worthless takes on what Brian should or should not do with his life, with my life, with Justin's life! Half the time I think the reason he left Pittsburgh was so he did NOT have to put up with this kind of shit anymore! And I don't fucking blame him!" Then I jumped off my stool and started walking.
She waved a dish towel at me and called out, "You can't talk to ME like that! I'm your mother!" But I kept going out the door and didn't look back.
I headed down the street on my way back to the store and hadn't walked even half a block when I came across the parked Jeep. Justin was sitting in it, his head against the steering wheel, crying.
This was familiar territory for me, so I opened the passenger door and climbed in. I reached in the backseat for the box of tissues. Brian always keeps a big box of Kleenex in the Jeep 'for emergencies.' Right. I pulled out a few tissues and handed them over.
"Fucking allergies," he sniffed.
"Yeah, they are bad this time of year." I took a tissue myself and blew my nose, mainly in solidarity. "I must be feeling it, too."
"How come I was so happy that Brian came -- but now it's like I wish he'd never even been here?"
"I understand. But at least you got to talk to him, to be with him. I didn't even get to have three minutes alone with him during the whole two weeks! BEN had a longer conversation with Brian!"
Justin pulled out another tissue and wiped his eyes. "He meant to. He told me a couple of times that he wanted to talk to you -- needed to talk to you. But it didn't happen. Too many other things... got in the way."
"Yeah, everything else always comes first." But as hard as it was, I did kind of understand. I was no longer a top priority in Brian's life. And I have to admit that he wasn't a top priority in mine, either, what with Ben and the store and everything else. Sometimes I'd realize that days had gone by without me even really thinking about him or wondering what he was doing. It almost made me feel guilty.
But it was obvious from the look on Justin's face that the day when he wasn't thinking about Brian ALL the time was a long way off.
"Maybe if I could make myself understand WHY he went back -- why he felt he needed to go back -- I would be able to deal with it better. But I don't understand. He was so... devastated when he got here. Why punish yourself like that?"
"You may have hit on the reason -- to punish himself."
"Who knows why Brian does the things he does, the way he does them? I bet even he doesn't know why, really." I looked around and watched the traffic flow by us on Liberty Avenue. "But I've been listening to Vic and Tim talk a lot this past week or so. There are certain things that Brian never, ever talks about. One is when he was in New York. And you know the other."
"When I got bashed. I know." He took another tissue.
"So, I don't know very much, even though I was around. Even though I lived through it, in a way. But Vic and Tim -- they know more. A lot more. More than I had imagined. And I heard them talking about it. Maybe I was eavesdropping, maybe they meant for me to hear -- but I heard."
"What kind of things, Michael?"
"Scary, scary shit. Stuff with drugs and stuff with... bad sexual things. Bad even for Brian now, but for then...." My voice trailed off to a whisper. "Things you might hate yourself for having to do. Things that you would hate to think of Brian having to do... to live... to survive...."
"I mainly remember that night he came home. Came to my mother's door. I'll never get THAT picture out of my fucking mind! His arms... his face.... And the worst stuff was OVER by then! He was home by then!" I try to block that image out of my mind as much as I can. But I know I can never get rid of it completely, any more than Brian can ever get rid of that night of the prom.
Justin was silent for a while, but then he said, "I want to know. I want to know everything."
"Are you sure? Because I don't know if anyone knows everything. It's kind of all confused -- that was a confusing time. I had forgotten just how much Vic was involved in getting Brian out of that hospital and into Tim's place -- rehab center or halfway house or whatever it was. About how much Vic talked to Brian and to his doctor. And how much Tim must have gotten out of him while he was living in that place. About living on the street, about the drugs. Even about Ron and his feelings about him at the time. Brian was in that halfway house over four months -- he and Tim must have talked a lot about what happened to him in New York."
Justin turned and looked at me. "I can believe that. They were lovers, you know."
"Brian and Father Tim. I can tell by the way Tim looked at Brian at the dinner. And then at the picnic."
Justin being a drama princess, again. "Sure. Brian and Tim! Now you really ARE projecting."
"I'm not. I know it's true. The same way I knew that Brian had done Emmett."
Now I stared at him. "How do you know THAT?"
"Em told me last Christmas -- but I guessed first. I can always tell. Always. The same way that... never mind."
"Your ESP isn't THAT good!"
"But my Bri-dar is -- and it's much better than yours, Michael."
"Maybe." This conversation was starting to make me uncomfortable. "Shouldn't you be going to your mom's soon?"
"Yes." He started up the Jeep. "Will you, like, go with me? I still want to talk. I don't have anyone else I really trust. I mean, I can talk to Emmett, but he doesn't understand things the way you do."
I sighed. "I guess Rusty can handle things down at the store for another hour or so. As long as no major crisis comes up."
"What kind of major crisis do you have at a comic book store?"
"Well, like when Captain Astro died!"
"Michael -- there was nothing you could have done for him! It was Fate!" He was mocking me -- but gently.
Justin put the Jeep in gear and pulled out into traffic, heading for his mother's condo.
"Sometimes I think that Brian doesn't really care anything about me at all. That maybe he took me to New York today just to be sure of a convenient fuck -- and then he paid me off with an expensive toy." He drove steadily, his eyes staring at the road.
"Okay, so you really believe that Brian would waste good money on an airplane ticket AND a DVD player -- I don't even want to try to guess how much that thing cost...."
"$899.99. Plus New York State sales tax."
"I know." He was smiling to himself.
"Anyway, he spends this dough on you and brings you along JUST to ensure a quick fuck?"
"In the VIP lounge. In the men's room."
"Well, I didn't imagine that you did it on the main runway!" Damn it! "So tell me -- on this trip just how many opportunities for a quick pick-up did Brian have? I mean, if you hadn't been with him and he'd been there free and clear?"
"I don't know. I guess I can't count that high!" He laughed a little.
"And yet he took YOU with him. What does that say to you? What does your -- what did you call it? -- your 'Bri-dar'? -- tell you?"
"That he wanted to be with me."
"What more can I say, Justin? Brian works in mysterious ways sometimes. But other times he's not that hard to figure out."
We drove a bit more before he spoke again. "So, Michael. Tell me everything you know about Ron. I mean, both good and bad."
"Oh, no. I don't think so." That's the last area I wanted to get into with Justin.
"Why not, Michael?"
"Because anything I say is completely biased against him. Obviously. I'd just be telling you all kinds of bad shit that would mirror the bad things you already think. And I don't think that would help your state of mind. Or mine! If you want a more balanced opinion, then talk to Ben."
Justin shook his head. "I don't want a lecture on philosophy. Or some psychological shit. Which is what I'll get if I ask Ben. I want to know what YOU know. What YOU think. It might help me to sort things out."
We stopped at a traffic light and Justin fumbled with the CD player in the Jeep. He pulled a CD out of a carrying case. "Could you put that in, please?"
"Sure." I put the CD in the tray and pushed the button. "What is this stuff?"
"Bob Dylan. I'm using it for a project. I like to listen to it and get ideas. I think it's working on my subconscious."
Dylan sounded a little hoarse, but what the heck -- Justin was the artist, not me.
"Okay. If you want to know." I leaned back and watched the city turn into suburbs. Mrs. Taylor had moved from their big house after the divorce, but she and Molly were still living in the kind of place I could only have dreamed of growing up -- green, privileged, entitled.
"I want to." And there was Justin -- just as 'entitled' and just as 'privileged.' He didn't seem to know the meaning of the word 'can't' or understand that he couldn't always have everything he wanted, when he wanted it.
"I met Ron at that film festival. He came in with Ben. I was freaking out because I was at the reception by myself and surrounded by all the pretentious assholes form the university."
"And you don't think Ben can be a pretentious asshole, too, sometimes?"
"Maybe, sometimes. But he can cut through the bullshit, too. Anyway, he came in with Ron...."
Shit. "What can I say? I thought he was very funny and interesting. And then we all went to dinner at The Orchid...."
"The Orchid? The Thai restaurant?"
"Nothing -- I've been there -- with Brian."
"I guess Ron is a big fan of Thai food. It was okay, I guess. I'm not a great one for foreign cuisine, as you know. Anyway, he told some really great stories about living in Hollywood and making movies. About Jimmy Hardy and other stars he had worked with. I kept wishing Emmett was there because I knew I couldn't remember half of the good stuff."
"So, you are telling me that you liked him?"
I didn't want to admit it, but.... "Yes. I liked him. And I knew Ben liked him. In fact, I was maybe a little bit jealous."
"I don't know. They have a lot in common. They are both interested in film. And well-educated. Both of them can talk about all sorts of people and ideas that I've never heard of. I felt like I was just sitting and listening to a couple of people so over my head that I felt left out. That's the first time I'd really felt that way with Ben -- I used to feel like that ALL the time with David! But then David went out of his way to make me feel that way."
"I know -- I could tell how uncomfortable you were. Remember the day we showed you how to use the correct silverware?"
"I remember. Talk about humiliating! Not everyone is raised in a country club, you know."
"I know, Michael"
"Plus -- I thought Ben was... attracted to Ron. It was something I just felt."
"To Ron?" He sounded skeptical.
I looked at him. "Are YOU telling me that's far-fetched? Ron may not be a hot young stud, but...." I had to be careful here. I didn't want to set Justin off. "Some people might find him... Shit! You know what I'm getting at."
"I know," he said, quietly. I wondered he was picturing him with Brian. Imagining what they did together, what they said. Or trying NOT to imagine it.
"So, I liked him -- but I guess I felt sort of threatened by him, too. And Ben had decided to write a book about him -- he's still working on it -- and I knew that would bring them together from time to time. But I was glad he was leaving town soon. I just never imagined that... that...." I still couldn't get my mind around the whole situation.
"That Brian would leave with him?" His eyes stayed on the road. "I knew. The minute I went back and told him what I'd seen at the film festival that night. I just knew."
"But -- why?"
"I can't explain it. It was a look on his face. He immediately went and got dressed. Like he was compelled to do it. I begged him not to go -- but nothing I could say would have stopped him. When I realized he was gone -- I mean really GONE -- I knew it was all my fault. I was the one who told him."
"Justin -- listen to me! If YOU hadn't said something, it would have been someone else. Too many people were there that night who knew Brian -- who recognized him. It would have turned out the same way."
"But -- it might have been too late. Ron might already have left town...."
"And if Brian felt he had unfinished business with this guy, you don't think he wouldn't have gone after him? Blaming yourself for how things turned out is useless, Justin."
"On an intellectual level, I know that -- but that's not what my heart feels. It really, really hurts, still."
I could feel that hurt, too. I'd been feeling it for years, but never more acutely than when I thought I'd never see him again. How much worse it must have been for Justin. "Ben says that Ron believes it's Fate."
"You know -- Fate. That this whole thing was planned out somehow. That he rediscovered Brian at just this particular moment for a reason. That Brian made Ron's career with that first movie way back when -- and now Brian is destined to make this new movie into some kind of milestone. At least, that's what he told Ben."
"You think he really believes that stuff?"
I shook my head. "Ben thinks Ron believes it. Believes that it is the only explanation for all that has happened. Fuck if I know the truth."
"But -- that's kind of creepy."
"I agree. But...."
"But what?" He almost whispered.
"What if it's true?"
He swallowed. "Then I think Brian is, like, doomed or something. Because what I saw when he came back from California two weeks ago did NOT look anything like a good kind of Fate."
"Shit." I watched his hands gripping the steering wheel of the Jeer, tighter and tighter. "You know that Brian tries to pretend that he's all logical and lives by certain rules and all that shit. But we both know that he's as superstitious as hell and that he really lives on gut instinct. You have to know that this Ron is playing on that to some extent. Playing on the emotional hold he has on Brian, from when he was a kid."
"But that was so long ago, Michael."
"Justin -- I am STILL playing off the emotional hold Brian's had on ME since I was 14 years old. I can believe it's possible. And I didn't go through the kind of trauma he did. If he believes that Ron saved his life in some way, or that he owes him something for what happened years and years ago, or that he still has some kind of feelings for him, whatever they might add up to -- you know Brian -- he'll never let it rest!"
"Michael, then it's fucking hopeless!"
"I don't think so. Maybe YOU still have a part to play here."
"What do you think? He didn't leave here looking so much better because of anything I did, or my mom did, or Vic, and anyone else. It was YOU. And you know that. This isn't the end -- not at all. Unless -- you don't care enough?"
"Who doesn't? I'm going to get my passport and do everything Brian told me to do. I'm going with him -- wherever it is he's going!"
"You better -- because I think he is crying out for help in the only way he knows how. You know that I spent a lot of years sort of looking out for Brian. Being there when he needed me. Doing what needed to be done, even when it wasn't pleasant -- even when it hurt me." I felt something cramping up inside of myself. "But I don't think that's my job anymore."
"No?" His voice sounded so young it made me sad.
"No, Justin -- it's now YOUR fucking job. If you are man enough to take it. If you aren't -- then let him go. Give him to Ron and his 'Fate' and all that shit. Let Brian spend the rest of his life -- however long that may be -- as old Ron's 'boy' then. As his 'creation.' Because we won't see Brian again in one piece. Or if we do, he won't be anything like the Brian we know. That person will be GONE. Dead. Destroyed. And who knows what will be left?"
"Jesus, Michael. Try to terrify me, why don't you?"
"I'm not saying anything you don't already know. Or feel. So, think about it, Justin. I've seen Brian almost destroyed twice in my life. The first time was after New York. The second time was after you got bashed. I don't think I could take a third time. I don't think HE could take a third time!"
Justin suddenly pulled the Jeep over to the side of the road and stopped. It was really getting dark now and we were still a few blocks from his mother's condo. He looked at me, distraught. "I think it's happened already, Michael. Out in Los Angeles. Something happened to him out there -- he was in the hospital."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. I think he may have tried to kill himself. But, as usual, he wouldn't talk about it."
"Damn it! That's always been my biggest fear -- that he would really injure himself. He's so full of fucking anger and suppressed rage -- and he would never, ever take it out on anyone else. Most people wouldn't believe it, but he's really the gentlest person I know. He could barely bring himself even to defend himself against his goddamn father! So, he takes everything out on himself, every time. I tried to tell Ron that the day he called, looking for him when he went missing. That must have been when it happened! When they finally found him... Fuck!"
"Michael -- what can we do? What can I do?"
"I don't know -- but you have to get your ass out there. Somehow. If you have the balls to do it. Because otherwise you might not get another chance. I never pushed the issue all the times I had the opportunity. I was too much of a fucking coward. I was afraid to go after what I wanted."
"I'm sorry, Michael."
"Well, if you just let it slide and then spend the rest of your fucking life whining and crying about it, then you deserve what you get. And that is the feeling that everything you have, no matter how good it seems or how happy you are with it, will always -- ALWAYS! -- feel like second best." I took hold of his arm and squeezed it. "Don't let the same thing happen to you, Justin! You're the closest thing I have to a real brother and I'm giving you the only advice that I can give you -- from my own painful experience."
"But the passport -- Brian said...."
"You think that if Ron finds out about that he'll let it happen? You are a fucking sitting duck here in the Pitts."
"Let me think." He was holding on to the steering wheel like he'd float away if he let it go. The CD kicked into another song and that raspy Dylan voice filled the Jeep.
"You lose yourself, you reappear,
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear,
Alone you stand with nobody near
When trembling distant voice, unclear,
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you."
He was listening to the words -- which didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but then, as I say, I'm no fucking artist!
"That's it -- the 'trembling distant voice' is calling. To me. This is IT!"
"What the fuck?"
"I'm superstitious, too, Michael." He pulled the Jeep out from the curb and back onto the street. But then he turned around.
"I thought we were going to your mom's place?"
"Nope. I'll pick up my birth certificate tomorrow. Now I'm going to Lindsay's."
"Because she and Gus are leaving for L.A. in exactly two weeks. And I'm going with them."
"You are? And how are you going to pay for a ticket to the West Coast?" Now I was smiling.
"Brian bought two first class tickets -- one for Lindsay and one for Gus, so they would have plenty of room on the plane. Two first class tickets will trade out to at least three regular tickets -- and we'll still have plenty of room and probably some money left over. And I'll go as Gus' nanny."
"And what if Lindsay doesn't go along with this little plan of yours?"
"Oh, she will. She has to. Because I don't think it was an accident that I was standing under that lamppost at the very minute when Brian walked by that night. And I don't think it was an accident that he came to my prom and saved me from getting killed. No matter how he may see that as a failure, I KNOW it wasn't. It was an heroic act that was meant to happen. And maybe Brian WAS fated to go to California, but it doesn't end there. Not by a longshot. So Lindsay HAS to say 'yes' -- because she can't say 'no.' Because it's Fate, after all? Isn't it, Michael? And you can't go against Fate."
And Justin drove the Jeep on, purposefully, into the darkening June evening.
Continue on to "Open Lines IV", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, July 2002
Here is the link to the lyrics to "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" from Bob Dylan's album Bringing It All Back Home.
Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions.
Revised July 14, 2003.