ART LOVER

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter 90 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Happy Hour", the previous chapter.

The narrator is Brian Kinney, featuring Justin Taylor, Lindsay Peterson, Melanie Marcus, Gus, Michael Novotny, Ben Bruckner, Jennifer Taylor, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian and Justin go to the August Art Fest. August 2002.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.

Ah, Home, Sweet Home. It's so good to be back....

"You invited WHO to do WHAT?"

"Now, Melanie, don't fly off the handle!"

I'm trying not to listen to this conversation. Of course, that's pretty difficult when you are in the next room and they are yelling. And when they are yelling about YOU.

I'm in the living room of the muncher palace, playing with Gus. With his leather-jacketed teddy bear. 'Daddy Bear' he calls it. I have to set him straight one of these days. I may not be as hairless as Justin -- far, far from it -- but I'm no bear! No fucking way!

And I'm ignoring the argument going on -- as far as I can. Because Lindsay invited me -- and Justin, of course -- to go along with her and Gus and Melanie on their vacation. And Mel isn't very happy about that. Well, that's a bit of an understatement. She fucking HATES the idea. Which means that I'm definitely going.

I want to spend a little time with my son before I have to leave town again. Truthfully, though I've only been back in the Pitts for a few days I'm already feeling stifled. Mikey started it by getting on my case for not calling him enough from England and not spending enough time with him now that I'm back. But, fuck! He's got his business AND his 'relationship' with Ben -- why does he need me to hold his hand all the time? I've called him. I've been to see him. I wish he'd just lay off a little. Stop making me feel guilty! We are having dinner with him and Ben tonight! I mean, what more can I do?

And Jennifer is giving me the evil eye for keeping Justin in England for so long. That's not my fault! She's just looking for excuses to make me the bad guy. She's looking for reasons why Justin is wrong to be with me. She still won't let it go....

And Justin is on the phone with Emmett constantly. They are confabbing together and giggling -- and I don't like it. Emmett is going to turn Justin into a lisping little queen if I don't put the brakes on it soon! It will be Judy Garland records and feather boas in the closet of the loft if Emmett has his way! That's one of my real nightmares. Unfortunately, I won't have a lot of say in what's going to go down around here after I'm gone....

Even Deb has been hovering around like a mother hen. Or a fucking mother-in-law! She seems to think that she has carte blanche to show up at the loft any hour of the day or night with food and little gifts. I came in yesterday after spending the morning over at the office, working out some things with Marty Ryder and Cynthia, and found Deb standing with Justin, folding laundry and watching the fucking soaps! Like a pair of yakking housewives! If this is what 'domestic bliss' is all about, I don't know if I can take much more of it!

Okay, okay, maybe I'm a little on edge. I feel pressure from every fucking side. The only one who doesn't give me any real grief is Justin. I keep remembering how good it felt when it was just the two of us over in England. Wishing it was just the two of us again -- faint fucking hope! None of this constant scrutiny. Constant criticism. Maybe I'm a little paranoid. Okay, I'm a LOT paranoid. But I think I have a point. Don't I?

Lindsay and Mel are going up to Lake Erie. South Bass Island. It's a resort area. One of Lindsay's relatives has a cottage there and the girls used to head up for a week or so every summer before Lindz had Gus. I even went with them for a few days once. I stayed for the weekend. Put-in-Bay, the main town on the island, was pretty hetero-heavy, but I managed to pull a few drunken frat boys while I was there. It was kind of fun.

"It's MY aunt's cottage, Mel," I hear the voices from the kitchen getting louder again. "And Brian IS Gus' father -- so I don't see why I can't invite him up there with us. He doesn't get to spend that much time with Gus as it is. You are always saying he should take a more active interest in his son. This will be an opportunity for us to be together a little."

"Like one big happy fucking family? Is THAT your REAL dream, Lindsay? With BRIAN as the daddy -- and ME as the third goddamn wheel? Well, THAT isn't MY idea of the perfect getaway!"

"Mel, you are just being difficult. I don't see what the big deal is."

"Oh, you DON'T? Just like you didn't see what the 'big deal' was when you just 'happened' to mention that you were pregnant again? By BRIAN? And this time you two bypassed the doctor. No, who needs THAT when you can just do it the NATURAL way, right? How convenient for you, Lindz!" Melanie is screeching. That woman's voice could cut through an iron door!

"Mel, we discussed having another baby. You were all for it. And Brian has already provided the extra money we'll need AND set up a fund for both Gus and the new baby."

"Right. Brian and his money to the rescue, as always! Feeding YOUR dreams of a nice little family unit -- with BRIAN? Where does that leave ME? Huh, Lindz? Just working my ass off -- and getting nothing but shit in return!"

I look at the clock. Time to pick up Justin at his mom's place. I set aside the Daddy Bear and watch Gus. He's running around like crazy now, grabbing everything in sight. As I stand up, he bounds over and hangs on to my pants. I feel like asking Lindsay if I can take him with me, but now might not be the best time....

"Excuse me, ladies, but I have to pick up the Better Half at his mother's."

Lindsay reaches down to take Gus's hand. "We're sorry you can't stay for dinner, Brian."

"Well, we have a lot to do -- especially if we're going up to the Island with you on Sunday."

"We are SO looking forward to it! Both you AND Justin! It'll be wonderful!" enthuses Lindsay. Melanie turns away, disgusted, behind her. "The cottage only has one bedroom, but there's a fold-out couch in the living room."

"I remember. It should be no problem. Justin and I are used to roughing it."

"Right, Brian. I saw Justin's photos of your suite in London. Really roughing it!" Lindsay kisses my cheek. "It's all set, then? Call me tomorrow."

"Okay. Bye, Mel," I call.

"Yeah, Bye."

And I get my ass out to the Jeep to pick up Justin. Shit. I don't relish staying in the cabin with the squabbling munchers and sleeping on that fold-out couch. It's worse than the one in the fucking poolhouse! But I've been thinking. There are other possibilities. I flip open my cell and give Cynthia a call to get her working on it.

I pull up to the condo exactly on time. Justin dashes out the door before I even have time to get out of the Jeep. Looks like he's in a hurry to get away. Jennifer is standing in the doorway, giving me 'The Look.' The one that pins me right to the fucking wall. Christ. I have a horrible flashback to that day we were sitting around, tossing the ball back and forth right after Justin got out of rehab. The day she gave me my walking papers. As if I didn't already feel guilty enough about what had happened to Justin, Jennifer had to kick me down one more time. Talk about feeling like a whipped dog! The only other person who can make me feel that way is my OWN goddamn mother!

Justin jumps into the Jeep. "Drive! Now!"

"Whatever you say." I lean over and capture a kiss from him. Justin gives his mom a little wave as we pull out of the driveway. "Now -- what was THAT all about?"

"I told her that we are going away. Again." Justin fastens his seatbelt. "She didn't take it well."

"It's only for a week. And did you tell her we'll be with the girls and Gus? So it isn't as if I'm dragging you into some den of iniquity."

Justin shakes his head. "She thinks that if I'm going to stay at some cabin in the woods, it should be with her and Molly. Like that would be my idea of the way to spend a fun week."

"Can you picture ME spending a week in the woods with you, your mom, and Molly?"

"Um, Brian... she didn't say anything about YOU."

"Oh. Of course," I say. Another reason to feel like two cents. She really doesn't believe I have any feelings, does she? Even for Justin. "She just doesn't want to invite the molester along."

"My mother doesn't think you are a molester, Brian!"

"No -- that's your father."

"Well, HE hasn't been around lately, so it's a moot point."

Right. At the rate I'm going, Justin will be as estranged from his whole family as thoroughly as I'm estranged from mine. And it will be my fault. That will be just great.

***

Ben has made a complete Thai dinner. It's pretty impressive. Ben has spent a lot of time in Asia and the food he's prepared is really good. Ben knows what he's doing.

But I'm still uncomfortable here. So many fucking things put me on edge. Mikey doing his puppy dog thing to start with. Looking reproachfully at me with those big brown eyes. And a little whining. Not too much, I admit, but even some gets on my nerves. Justin, of all people, is the one who defuses him. Has Mikey talking about Vic and Father Tim. Or just Tim. Whatever the fuck. Their 'relationship.' Jesus, is every fucking person in the world in a 'relationship'? I guess they are. And now -- to my astonishment -- so am I.

I feel like Ben is watching me. Paranoia again. Why do I get the impression that he'll be on the phone to Ron five minutes after we leave? After all, they have been friends for years and years. I know it's ridiculous, but I get that feeling. There's always that unspoken thing between me and Ben. From the White Party a few years back. If Mikey knew about it, he'd freak out. And now Justin knows and -- frankly -- Justin has a big fucking mouth! He could say something without even thinking. And Mikey wouldn't be able to deal with it. I know him well enough to realize that. It doesn't matter that it happened long before he even met Ben. That doesn't make any difference. Not to Michael. Because it wouldn't be about fucking Ben. It would be about ME. Me and Michael and all the history between us. And the simple fact that -- no matter what else happens in this insane world -- I'll never fuck him. And Mikey knows it.

"I've already made reservations for the hotel for November, Brian," says Ben, breaking into my thoughts.

"What's in November?" Justin looks up from his second helping of Pad Thai noodles.

"The premiere of 'The Olympian,'" says Ben. "Michael and I are going out to it. As Ron's guests."

Justin just looks at me. Shit.

"I'm hoping my book about Ron's films will be ready just after Christmas. I'm going to do the last chapter on 'The Olympian' opening and the critical reaction to the movie. Everything else is finished." Ben blathers on about his fucking book. "Have you seen the stills they sent me? They look exceptional. And I'm waiting for a tape of the new trailer. It's supposedly controversial. What do you know about that, Brian?"

"Um, nothing actually. I haven't even seen the first trailer yet." Because I'm doing everything I possibly can to avoid speaking to Ron. So I don't even know what's going on with my own film!

"The old trailer is pretty vague on anything but the sports angle. But I'm told that the new one is, er, more to the point."

"Does that mean it shows my ass?" I mean it as a joke -- but it's probably too true.

"I doubt THAT, Brian. But I'm told it doesn't dodge the gay content the way the first one did."

"Those morons have no idea how to market this film." And I go off on my ideas and how they should present 'The Olympian.' Not that the powers that be would ever listen to anything I have to say. No fucking way.

And neither Ben nor Mikey have noticed that Justin has suddenly gone silent. For the whole rest of the evening. He doesn't even pull out his photographs from our trip until Mikey mentions them, and even then he seems half-hearted about it. But I notice it. I really notice.

It's after midnight when we finally get out of there. The unspoken question is hanging heavy in the Jeep all the way back to the loft. It isn't until we arrive home and start getting undressed that Justin finally coughs up that hairball.

"I guess I'm not invited to the premiere, am I, Brian?" he says, softly.

I let all the air out of my lungs and count to ten. "You'll still be in class, Justin. Plus, I didn't know if you'd want to go. I mean, considering that media circus in England. For the premiere it will be ten times worse. I wanted to avoid exposing you to all that...."

"But Ben and Michael are going. And Debbie and Vic. I remember the present you gave them at Papagano's. Tickets to the premiere and hotel and airfare. Everybody important to you is going, I guess. Except me."

"If you really want to go, Justin...." But I keep picturing Justin... and Ron. In the same room. Facing off somehow. It makes my stomach heave.

"No. I don't want to be a 'problem,' Brian." Justin's voice rises. "I don't want to be in the way. Which I obviously would be. I understand, Brian. Perfectly," he spits out.

"What the fuck do you want me to do, Justin?"

"Nothing at all! Except show a little fucking backbone, maybe. If you care enough, that is." He stomps away from me.

"I'm not even fucking out there! I don't know the whole situation yet! At least give me a little time to see what's happening. Then... I can let you know... what...." I stop myself. Because I don't know what the fuck I'm saying. I'm just making excuses. And he's calling me on it. He's fucking right.

Let's just say that it wasn't exactly a Sunshine-filled night.

***

The next day, Thursday, I spend most of the day at Ryder Associates. I'm a 'consultant' now and Marty has me 'consulting' on a couple of things. Also trotting me out to have lunch with some new clients. And Cynthia has made arrangements for the Island so Justin and I aren't at the mercy of the Mommies the entire time we are there. Cynthia is a fucking jewel and I have to let her know that -- one of these days.

Justin has dinner ready when I get back to the loft. Chicken cacciatore. So he's speaking to me again. Sort of. I try to smooth the situation a little while we eat. Pretend there was no unpleasantness last night. My usual defense. But the last thing I want to do now is fight with him! August only has so many days in it and they are going by quickly.

"Do you think we could go over to the August Art Fest tomorrow?" Justin says, as he clears away the dishes. "Just for an hour or so?"

"What is this thing? And where is it?"

"By Carnegie Mellon. It's like a street fair, with booths set up. The road is blocked off and the artists sell their work. And there will be some music. And food."

"Sort of like the railings at Hyde Park on a Sunday?"

That actually gets a slight smile. "Sort of. But without Rowan!"

"If you can guarantee THAT -- then I'll go."

"I want to go because some of the artists with booths there will be participating in the show at the Austin Gallery. The one my professor entered me in for September."

"So you want to scope out the competition?"

"A little bit. It never hurts to see what other artists are doing." Justin scoops out a dish of ice cream for himself and sits back down at the table. "Of course, they won't have their show pieces there, but I might get an idea of what direction they going in."

"Whatever you do, don't change your own piece, Justin. It's YOURS and there will nothing else like it in that show, I'm sure. I think it's totally original." I watch him eat the ice cream and think about licking it off him. We've done that before. And it's pretty warm in the loft. Something cool might be nice. Especially after last night's cold shoulder.

"It's not like you're biased or anything, Brian." He watches me, smiling.

"So what? If your piece wasn't any good, I'd say so."

"No, you wouldn't!" He pretends to flip his spoon at me.

"Then I'd defer commenting. But in this case, it isn't necessary. Because your piece is really good. Fucking Bob Dylan songs notwithstanding." It's a real multi-media piece, with video and music and the whole shebang.

"I bet Ron wouldn't like it if he knew I was using an idea I got from him. From his Dylan CDs."

"Don't be so certain, Justin. He's an artist himself and Ron's not so small -- or so blind -- that he'd begrudge someone else their own creativity. Especially when he struggled so hard to get where he is."

"Maybe. But it would be ironic if I won something. I mean, if this project -- and Ron -- helped my art career."

"Stranger things have happened. A year ago... who'd have fucking thought?"

"Yeah. I didn't even know I'd ever draw again, let alone be in a gallery show."

"It's because you worked your tail off to get this far. You ARE a little pitbull, and I mean that. You never let go of anything you really want."

He's quiet for a while. "I thought about quitting. Giving up. A lot of times. But after you... went away... it was something to ground me. Something to focus my energy on and keep me sane. Especially during the times when...." Justin shudders and I can't even imagine what kind of feelings he had then. And I don't have much of an answer for him. Other than a shitload of unspoken regrets. My head is full of those apologies that I 'don't do.' Because I'm afraid once I start apologizing, I'll never be able to stop.

Justin gets up to put his empty bowl away. And on his way back to the table I detour him -- right into the bedroom. I don't bother with the ice cream. It isn't really necessary. His skin is creamy enough. I'm sick of arguing and I'm sick of other people's shit -- but there's no arguing here. None at all. Maybe I DO derail every important 'discussion' by fucking it away. But so what? If it works....

The next day we drive over to the August Art Festival around 3:00. We've already spent the whole morning getting stuff for the trip to the Island, including buying new sleeping bags, a cooler, and a pile of other 'camping' gear. I hope the Jeep is big enough for everything we need. AND Gus and the Mommies.

Of course, when we get to the festival, there's no place nearby to park. But it's a beautiful August day and after tramping all over those fucking mountains in England a jaunt down the sidewalk isn't a big chore. There are other people walking along, on their way to the show. Arty student types. A couple pushing a baby stroller. Usually when we're outside the confines of Liberty Avenue I'm reluctant to be too touchy-feely -- or too 'coupley,' as Emmett would put it. You never know what kind of homophobes are lurking around and my paranoia about Justin getting attacked again is always high. But we went all over England, even in the smallest towns, and held hands and even kissed in public and there was never so much as a murmur from anyone. Except a few Americans. Fucking tourists. So, I hold his hand as we walk along. It's what I want to do, so what the fuck? I'm sick of measuring myself by other people's reactions and expectations.

Justin knows exactly what he's looking for among the exhibits. He knows his competition and searches out their displays. I see a few interesting pieces, but nothing like Justin's work. Nothing at all. Nothing as interesting. Nothing as political. Just nothing as fucking deep!

It's a sunny, stifling afternoon. The whole summer in Pittsburgh has been hot and dry. Before too long I'm looking for something to drink. A soft drink, I mean. Of course. There are some food booths at one end of the street, so we head down there. Of course, Justin wants a hot dog. I get one for myself, too.

"Brian, you aren't putting ketchup on your hot dog, are you?" Justin says, squirting some bright yellow stuff on his wiener.

"What's wrong with it?"

"It's just... wrong, Brian! Mustard is what goes on hot dogs!"

"Well, I like ketchup," I say. "And I like it on my hot dog!" I lift an eyebrow as I bite into it.

"Now who is the barbarian, Brian?" He waves his hot dog in my face.

"You ARE a little Fiend, you know." I give him a poke.

"Takes one to know one!" He pokes me back. Sometimes we end up getting silly, like a pair of ten year olds, fooling around. Wrestling. Needling each other. Having fun. Dare I say being happy? I think it's some form of foreplay because we always end up fucking. But not at the August Art Fest, of course. At least, not yet.

We sit and eat the hot dogs and then decide to wander around while we finish our drinks. Justin has a big lemonade and I have ice tea. Perfect for a hot day. It all goes down pretty easily. There are some musicians playing at intervals along the street, between some of the booths. 'Selling' their music, just like the artists are selling their work. Baskets for donations sit out front while they play. Some of the musicians are extremely good.

I stop to listen to a classical guitarist. I really admire her. What I do on the guitar can barely be called playing. Bashing, Mikey and I used to call it when we had our band in high school. Bashing -- I fucking hate that word now. My own playing is basically one step up from air guitar. I put ten bucks in the girl's basket. Some people really DO have a talent. Other people get by on... well, what I get by on. My looks. My ass. Whatever. She starts a Segovia piece. I put another twenty in her basket.

"She IS good, Brian." Justin stands next to me, holding on to my hand.

"I know. And guys who can't play a lick are making millions. It's an unfair fucking world, Justin." Like I need to tell Justin that. Like he doesn't carry that message in the scars that I can still see on his head, under that pale hair.

We stroll along and I'm daydreaming as I drink my ice tea. Then I realize that Justin is squeezing my hand. Really squeezing it. He's finished his lemonade and thrown away the cup, so his left hand is in mine and his right hand -- his 'bad' hand -- is curled up against his chest, opening and closing. Justin sometimes does this when he's nervous, like he's making sure his hand still works.

I reach over to touch it. "Are you getting a cramp there? Let me see it."

"NO!" He jerks his hand away. Justin's face is pallid, stricken.

"What the fuck is the matter? Are you okay?" Now I'm alarmed. I look around, expecting to see Chris Hobbs or some other demon lurking there.

"No," he whispers. "I'm NOT okay."

"What the fuck is wrong?" Now I'm panicking. I'm ready to get out my cell and call 911. Except -- he doesn't seem sick or hurt. Just stunned.

"Justin -- tell me!"

But he is staring across the way, between two booths. A man is standing there, playing the violin. A woman stoops and drops a few dollars into his basket.

"What?" I glance at the musician, then around at the other booths. "I don't get it."

Justin moves closer to me, clutching my arm. The look on his face is unreadable. Perplexing. "That's HIM, Brian," he chokes. "Him."

"Who? What are you saying?"

"The guy... in my vision."

I hold Justin out at arm's length and gape at him. "Oh, come on!" It's ludicrous.

"No, really, Brian," he insists. "It's him. I know it...."

I look back at the guy. Young, but older than Justin. Very short and very scruffy, with scraggly dark hair, dressed in black. Typical 'arty' student. Someone I wouldn't take a second look at in a thousand years. But Justin twists around, staring at him again, unable to look away. And I begin to feel afraid. To feel helpless.

"Justin, that was only a dream! It wasn't real!" I'm almost begging him. "You see a guy who sort of reminds you of what you think you saw..." I don't even want to look now. I'm scared to look. I think about what I'd do if I saw one of my own nightmares standing right there in front of me. Stan. Ron. Oh. I will. That's the awful thing. "And now you are jumping to fucking conclusions!"

But Justin's face is frozen. "I'm not, Brian. I know what I 'saw' in that vision -- and I know that's the same guy." Justin turns away from the musician. Now HE'S afraid to look over there, too. We both stand with our backs to the guy, like maybe he'll just disappear. Somehow. Please.

We stand there for what seems like hours, but, of course, it's only about a minute. My anxiety level is fucking through the roof. I was so naive to think we'd put that 'vision' shit behind us. That stupid woman -- that Fiona! -- and her playing around with fucking Fate! Releasing all the demons in the world down on us! That's what it feels like! And we can't escape. Justin's bad hand is clenching and unclenching. I try to hold it still in mine.

"Well," I say, finally, swallowing hard. "Are you going to go over and talk to him?"

Justin opens his mouth and then closes it. "What are you saying, Brian?"

I swallow again. My mouth is so dry. "To make certain, Justin. Don't you want to know? To... make sure that you've made the right... choice?"

"What the fuck do you mean, Brian?" Justin grasps my arm. "I've already MADE my choice! I don't NEED to fucking know anything else!" His face is getting red.

"Then... maybe you should get his number." I look Justin directly in the eye. Here's the real moment of fucking truth. "For later. For after I leave town."

"Shut the fuck up!" He's shouting now. Some people look our way. Even the musician looks up. "I mean it! How can you even say that? Are you trying to get rid of me, Brian?" His voice drops to a whisper. "Are you?"

I try to keep my voice steady. "I just want you to be sure, Justin. I don't want you to have any doubts about us. Not now. It's too important."

Justin regards me with that blue, penetrating gaze. We turn as one and observe the musician. Another guy, taller, with brown hair tied back in a pony tail, wearing baggy pants and a sweatshirt, comes over and hands him a soft drink. The musician puts his instrument back in its case and they kiss.

"He's got a boyfriend," says Justin, releasing a long breath he wasn't even aware he was holding. "Another guy. It wasn't ME, so someone else came along and..." Justin grips my arm. "Someone else!"

"Yeah, so? He's just another fag with a boyfriend. Was that in your 'vision,' too, Sunshine?"

"No, Brian." There's the hint of a smile on his lips. "If HE was really THE one -- the one I was meant to be with -- then he'd still be waiting. For ME. Just like I waited for you. Just like I'll keep waiting. Like WE will keep waiting until it's all straightened around. Until everything is right. The way it's supposed to be. Because I'm certain now -- even more than I was before. That YOU are the one I'm supposed to be with. Not him. Not anyone else. YOU."

"That's the screwiest thing I've ever heard in my life, Justin! It's just nuts!" But he has me believing it. Because I WANT to believe it? Because I HAVE to believe it? I have no fucking idea. But I'll take it.

I'll take anything I can get at this point!

"And what about ME? Who am I supposed to be with? Can you see THAT, too?"

"It always goes two ways, Brian. It has to. I know you don't believe in that stuff. But I do. And you'll see it one day. You'll know. There won't be any doubt in your mind."

"The day I don't have any doubts? I'd love to live that long." And I'd love to have that certainty. And maybe it isn't that far away. Maybe no further than my hand....

Justin pulls gently at me. The brass bracelet on his right wrist brushes against my hand and I wrap my fingers around it. "Let's get out of here, Brian," Justin says. "Before he starts playing again. I can't stand violin music! The high pitched screeching makes my head ache."

"Whatever you say, Justin. You're the boss."

And that's when I realize, to my amazement, that he really is.

Continue on to "Cruising -- Part 1", the next chapter.

©Gaedhal, September 2002

Pictures of Gale Harold and Randy Harrison from Showtime and Mia.

Updated September 27, 2002