This is Part 5, the final section of "Beatitudes"
The other sections in "Beatitudes".
Features Justin Taylor, Brian Kinney, Jennifer Taylor, Craig Taylor, Molly Taylor, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian and Justin make a decision. Pittsburgh, December, 1957.
Jennifer Taylor crept silently into her son's room. It was after 10:00 a.m., and although she hated to invade Justin's privacy -- or see what she knew she would see in his bed -- she had to wake him up.
Both Justin and Brian were sound asleep, spooning together under the thick blankets. Brian's right arm was thrown over Justin, the fingers of their hands entwined. Jennifer hesitated. Seeing them together like that troubled her, but it also made her feel strangely protective. Her room was right next to Justin's and last night she had heard them whispering and laughing through the thin walls. And after everything was quiet and they thought she and Molly were sleeping, she heard other things, too. Things she didn't like to consider, but which were now a reality. And she had to accept it or risk losing her precious son.
"Justin," Jennifer said, shaking him slightly.
"Huh?" he answered drowsily. Brian groaned and turned over the other way, burying his face in the pillow.
"Justin, get up. Your father is downstairs and he wants to see you."
Justin's eyes flipped open. "Mom, what are you doing in here?" He pulled the blanket up over his bare, pale chest. Then he glanced over at the unconscious Brian, who was snoring softly.
"Daddy is downstairs and he wants to see you," Jennifer repeated. "He's here to take Molly. He has her over Christmas." Jennifer paused. "He was on his way up the stairs to wake you up, but I stopped him in time. You better get dressed and come down before he bursts in here!"
"Jeez, Mom!" Justin sat up, his hair all tangled. He sighed. "Give me five minutes, okay?"
Justin finally came down the stairs, straightening his tee shirt.
"Well," said Craig Taylor. "It's about time. Have a rough night? You know it's after 10:00, don't you?"
"I'm on vacation from the Institute, Dad, so give me a break." Justin stood, shifting his weight from one bare foot to the other. "So, what's up?"
"I just wanted to see you, is that a crime?" Craig retorted defensively.
"No, it's just a surprise. You haven't made much of an effort to see me in months, so why now?"
"I knew you were busy with school. And I've been busy, too, you know," Craig answered.
"Sure. Whatever you say, Dad." Justin couldn't look his father in the eye.
"Here's something for you," said Craig. He took an envelope out of the pocket of his coat and pushed it at his son. "That should cover your birthday, too. Sorry I missed it."
Justin stared at the red envelope. "Thanks," he replied unenthusiastically.
"So, how are you doing at the Institute?"
"Fine," said Justin. "I have some of my paintings and drawings at an exhibit at the Austin Gallery downtown."
"Oh, yeah? Maybe I'll check it out." Craig grimaced slightly. He didn't particularly like art and he certainly didn't understand it or his son's obsession with it. People kept telling him that Justin was very talented, so he guessed it was true. Maybe he could get a job in an advertising agency or teach art at a high school or something. Craig couldn't imagine what other kind of job Justin could get with this major, but he wasn't about to argue with him about it. The divorce settlement had specified that he pay for Justin's education and he was doing it, no questions asked. Jennifer's lawyer had really pinned him to the ropes with that one!
Molly came down the stairs with her suitcase and thankfully interrupted the exchange between father and son. Jennifer followed behind.
"Are you ready to go, Mollusk?" asked Craig, getting out his car keys.
"All ready, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "Hi, Justin. I'm going to Daddy's."
"I know. Have fun." Justin scratched his head and yawned.
"Where's Brian? I want to say bye to him before I go."
Justin stopped. "He's... still sleeping."
Craig frowned. "Who's Brian?'
"He's Justin's boyfriend. He's here with Justin," Molly replied.
"What?" said Craig, his eye wide. "What does THAT mean?"
"She means that he's a friend of Justin's," Jennifer said quickly. "He's been staying with us for a few days."
"No, Mom! That's not right!" Molly insisted. "He's Justin's boyfriend -- and there's nothing wrong with that! Brian told me so. He says that you shouldn't pay any attention to a bunch of idiots who don't know what love is all about." She turned to her father. "You'd like him, Daddy. He looks just like James Dean!"
Craig Taylor gaped at his daughter, then at his son. Justin looked back at him, defiantly. Then Craig turned to his ex-wife. "What the hell is she talking about, Jen?"
Jennifer took a deep breath. "Justin's friend Brian is staying here for the Holidays. With Justin. They have an apartment over near Liberty Avenue. They live together there." Jennifer licked her lips nervously. "And there's nothing you can do about it, Craig. Justin is 19 years old now. It's his life."
"His life?" Craig boomed. "And you... you think this is all right? You allow this under your roof? Are you completely crazy, Jennifer?"
"This has nothing to do with Mom," interrupted Justin. "This is about me and Brian. You haven't been interested in anything happening in my life for a long time now, Dad, so it shouldn't make any difference to you whether or not I'm a queer. Which I am. And I don't care what you think about it!"
Craig's face was bright red and getting redder. "This isn't the end of this, Justin. Jennifer, I'm calling my lawyer right after Christmas. I don't want my daughter in this house with... with a couple of perverts!"
"Craig, please!" Jennifer begged. "Justin is still your son!"
"No son of MINE is a goddamn fag!" Craig yelled.
Molly shrank away from him and ran to her mother. "I don't want to go with him, Mommy! Not if he hates Justin!" Molly whined. Jennifer hushed her.
"Don't worry, Dad, your queer son will be out of here before you bring Molly back!" Justin spat. "But don't forget that babe YOU are shacked up with, Dad. Don't let Molly see HER! Mom might go to her lawyer, too!"
"Shut up, Justin," Craig retorted. "Shut up about Christine! If you want me to continue paying for college, then...."
Justin narrowed his eyes at his father. "Are you planning to go to the judge and tell him in open court that your only son is a fairy, so you want to cut off his college money? Go ahead, Dad! Tell all your friends! Take out an ad in 'The Pittsburgh Clarion'! Because I don't care WHO knows!" And Justin turned and raced up the stairs.
Brian was sitting up in bed. "What the hell was going on down there? I could hear the shouting all the way up here."
"My father. He knows." Justin climbed onto the bed and put his arms around Brian. "Molly spilled it. But I don't care. It's a load off my mind."
"Forget him, Sunshine." Brian stroked Justin's hair. "It doesn't matter what he thinks."
"I know. But he's still my dad, Brian. And now he hates me," said Justin, dejectedly.
"Where's he been for the past year, Justin? Where was he on your goddamn birthday? He didn't know you were a fag then, so what was his problem?" said Brian. "It isn't YOU -- and it isn't because you're queer. It's HIS fucked up head, Sunshine. He may use this as an excuse, but you know the truth. He must be feeling a lot of damn guilt to feel the need to take it out on everyone else."
"I know, Brian. But it still hurts." Justin hid his face in Brian's chest.
"I know. But you learn to live with it. You have to learn to live with shit you can't change, Justin. And you'll survive. You'll be strong. You have to be when you're a goddamn fag in this society."
Brian and Justin didn't come down again until it was afternoon. Jennifer was at the real estate office, Molly had been convinced to leave with her father, and the house was quiet. Justin decided to make dinner for his mother, so he got out some ground beef and made hamburgers.
"I guess I need to expand my cooking skills a little," he told Brian as he formed the meat into patties.
"You do all right. You haven't heard me complaining, have you?"
"No, not at all." Justin looked over at Brian, who was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper. "Did you take your antibiotic?"
"Yes, Mom -- I took it," Brian replied sarcastically.
"Hey, don't bitch at me. I'm taking care of you, like I told the doctor." Justin paused. "Is Melanie really going to file against the police department?"
"Not if she's planning to use me for a witness. Because I won't do it," said Brian, firmly.
"But Brian, why not? Think about what they did! Don't you want justice? Don't you want them to be punished?"
"Yes," Brian said slowly. "But they won't be. I'll get dragged through the mud -- and so will you, Justin. And everyone else I know. They'll probably even dig up my damn parents and have them testify about what a cheap punk I am." Brian shook his head. "Mel means well, but she's a lawyer looking for a cause. I'm not a cause, Justin, I'm a poet. If I work out any of this experience it won't be in court -- it'll be in my poetry. That's the only way I can do it. Stockwell may go down, but it won't change the cops. It won't change this city -- or society. They'll still hate queers and anyone else who is different and isn't ashamed to admit they're different. That will never change."
"But it can, Brian!" Justin replied. "I believe it can change. But someone has to make the first move."
"Well, that someone isn't me, Sunshine." Brian swallowed. "Maybe I'm a coward, but it isn't me."
Justin sat down on next to Brian at the kitchen table. "What is it with you and Stockwell, Brian? Tell me."
Brian flinched. "It's too long a story. It's... not something you should be touched by. Ever. Just make your hamburgers."
"They're made," Justin sniffed. "Brian, I already AM touched by this. When it hurts you, when THEY hurt you, then it's about me, too. I was in the Austin Gallery when they arrested you. And I was in that examining room, too, Brian. There aren't any secrets between us, remember?"
"Yes there are. Plenty." Brian stood up. "I need a smoke." And he walked outside.
Jennifer came home and was pleased to find Justin frying the burgers. Brian was in the living room, staring at the television set. She'd never seen Brian watch the television before, so she knew something was up.
"Did you and Brian have an argument, Justin? Is it about what your father said?" she asked gently.
"No, Mom, it has nothing to do with that." Justin sighed. "It's just that he doesn't want to talk about things with me. Important things. He just shuts me right out."
"I don't think that Brian is used to sharing his feelings with anyone, honey," Jennifer replied. "Maybe he never had anyone he trusted enough to open up to. It's hard for a lot of men. Your father... he would never say what was bothering him, either. Instead, one day he just walked out the door and never came back."
Justin looked at his mother in alarm. "You don't think Brian would do that, do that? Just run away from me? Without a warning? Without explaining things?"
"I don't know, Justin," she said. "But... if he does -- it isn't your fault. Maybe there are things he can't deal with. You said he's had a difficult life. And then getting beaten up at the police station. That must have been upsetting."
Justin set his mouth in a tight line. "It was more than just getting beaten up, Mom. Those cops -- they assaulted him. They... they hurt him. And if they ever get hold of me, they'll do the same thing." Justin looked into his mother's horror-filled eyes. "That's what it means to be a queer, Mom. But Brian isn't a victim. And I don't plan to be one either. But you know what? I bet if it happened to me, Dad would think that I had it coming to me. So would a lot of people. Maybe even you."
"Justin! How can you say that?" Jennifer seized his arm. "You know I love you and would never want anything to happen to you -- or to Brian. Ever. So don't insult me like that." She let go of her son. "If you are angry at Brian, take it up with him, but don't put the blame on me, honey." Her voice softened. "It must be frustrating -- even terrifying -- to feel so helpless. So think of how HE must feel. You two need to talk. Or else it might be better if you moved out of his place so you'd have time to think about what you really want."
The three ate dinner in relative silence. Jennifer mentioned that she was going to church on Christmas morning and that the boys were welcome to attend with her. Both declined.
Directly after dinner Brian went up to Justin's room and got into bed. He was hurting more than he wanted to admit. He took the pain pill Dr. Gross had prescribed. Maybe he should leave tomorrow. Maybe he should even leave this town. Brian had been considering it for a long, long time. He probably never should have returned to Pittsburgh after he was released from the Army hospital, but he didn't know any other place.
Pittsburgh was not kind to him, but it was familiar. He'd had a few friends here -- a teacher, a coach -- who helped him get into Penn State on the G.I. Bill. That was worthwhile, although he'd had a few set-backs in college. A slight -- very slight -- nervous breakdown after his freshman year. And a couple of minor busts -- by Stockwell, who else? -- but they hadn't gotten him kicked out of school. Now he had his degree, with Honors, in English. He could probably go to another state and get a job. Maybe teach. Or work in an office. But none of those options appealed to him. He was a poet. He needed to be free. That's why he was still hustling. He could do it when he wanted to and accept or reject tricks at will. But there was always the fear of being busted. Well, now he'd been busted again -- not for hustling, but for reading his poem. Shit! Sometimes you couldn't win for losing.
Justin came into the room and shut the door. Brian turned over, facing away. He didn't want Justin to know what he was thinking. That he was considering splitting town. Alone. But Justin got undressed and then climbed into bed. His hands and feet were like ice. It was bitterly cold outside. It would be a frigid Christmas. Brian coughed a few times, as he often did when he was anxious. Then he turned back over. Justin was facing him. And looking at Brian with absolute love and acceptance.
"My old man was a drunk," Brian began. "My old lady, too. They were quite a pair. That's what they had in common -- booze. That and a lot of bad attitude, which I inherited. When he got out of the Army in 1945 I was 13. I admit I'd been running wild for a lot of years. The old lady didn't care what I did. But it was just kid's stuff. I actually liked school and got good grades. The teachers were always telling me I was smart and that I could make something of myself, but I didn't know what that meant. No one in our neighborhood had ever gone to college. They were laborers, like my old man. So maybe I was smart, but I was also a mouthy little punk. I knew I was different -- a queer -- from early on and that scared me. So I lashed out. I got into fights to prove I was tough, that I was a man. I was so afraid someone would find out what I was thinking and feeling about other guys. I thought I was the only one in the world who felt that way."
Brian closed his eyes. "My old man hadn't been home from the Army for a week before he started batting me around. My sister had already left home and was living with some guy. I think they wanted me to get out, too. To run away. Then they wouldn't have to pay for me. But I was doing well in school. And I had nowhere else to go, so I stayed and took his beatings and her abuse. Finally, one night me and the old man got into it. He threw me out the door and locked it. I pounded on that goddamn door all night, pleading with my mother to let me back in, but no dice. It was late fall and getting cold. I slept in an empty garage and I begged for food from the neighbors until they got sick of seeing me at their doors. My hands were so cold that I went into Woolworth's and lifted a pair of gloves. Just my luck, the clerk caught me. My old lady told the judge that I was a chronic runaway and a thief. I was declared delinquent by the Court and sent to Juvenile Hall for nine months. All for a lousy pair of gloves."
Brian paused and swallowed. "The first night I was there one of the guards pulled me out of the line and took me to a room. He told me to take off my clothes. They called it 'breaking you in.' I got broken in by the guards every night for the first two weeks I was in the joint. After that, the guards turned me over to the punks in charge. There was a hierarchy in Juvie and I was the bottom of the bottom, literally. The toughest guys were in charge and they used their power like grown-up gangsters. I was new meat and they traded me around like they traded cigarettes." Brian barked out a laugh. "You're supposed to learn a trade while you're in Juvie Hall and I definitely learned one. I've been making money doing it ever since. When they released me I was 14 and the most practiced whore in the joint. So I put my talents to work. And that's how I met Kenny Rickert."
Justin blinked. "Stockwell's partner on the Vice Squad."
"The very same. I didn't know he was a cop at first, but he became one of my regulars. Then one night I got busted. Rickert showed up when I was down in the pens and he fished me out. He took me to another room with a couple other cops. I knew the drill and went to work blowing the cops. His partner, Stockwell, was one of them, although I didn't know his name then. Afterwards, they let me go. I got busted again later and sent to Juvie for a month. But when I got out, Rickert was waiting for me. After that he always made sure that they let me go with a warning or time served or else he snuck me out the backdoor. He liked me. Then I started staying at his place for days at a time. I even started going to school again, which I liked. Before long I was shacked up with Ken Rickert full time."
Justin tried to picture Brian, even younger than Justin was now, trying to survive on the streets, then living with this cop. "Did you... love him?"
Brian started. "Are you nutty? I didn't love him. I was afraid of him. But I also knew that he would protect me. I learned that in Juvie Hall, too. Shack up with the biggest dog, someone tough and mean. Then they'll take care of you and the others will leave you alone. And the other cops did leave me alone, thank God. Except Rickert was a whack job. He liked it rough and sometimes he didn't know when to lay off. He started hurting me. I didn't like it. If I'd wanted to get beaten up I could go back to my old man for it and I told Rickert as much. So I split."
Brian reached over and lit up a cigarette, even though he knew Jennifer Taylor would be pissed off that he was smoking in her immaculate house. But he needed a smoke. Really needed one. "This English teacher at my school read some of my poems. She was nice to me. I went to her and she got me into a decent foster home where they fed me pretty well, but otherwise left me alone. I was eating and sleeping regularly and growing a lot. I even started doing sports. Baseball. Track. Soccer. And I was good at it, to my surprise. I didn't even have to blow the coach to make the team. I was playing games for the first time in my life, like a real kid. I felt like I was living sort of a normal life."
Brian took a puff and blew out the white smoke. "But then Rickert began coming around. He wanted me to come back. He said he loved me and couldn't live without me. It was all bullshit. He was off his goddamn rocker. My foster mother and my teacher and coach went to Rickert's chief and told him to make the guy lay off me. The chief put Rickert on suspension and warned him to stay away. Not long after that a kid was found in a dumpster in an alley off Liberty Avenue. I knew the kid slightly. He looked a little like me -- tall, thin, brown hair. In the past he and I had shared some johns who liked the same type. When I heard this kid had been strangled I thought of Rickert immediately. He'd get drunk and then get rough and start these games where he'd choke you. He heard somewhere that made you come harder. I went to his apartment and asked him point blank if he'd offed the kid."
"What did he say?" Justin asked, trembling.
"Rickert told me it was an accident. He said he was drunk and the kid panicked and he grabbed him to calm him down. That was also bullshit, of course. He'd choked the kid and gone too far in his little game. Then he had the goddamn balls to say that I was to blame for the kid's death! That he only picked the kid up because I wouldn't come back to him! I said to him, 'Come back so you could kill ME instead? Is that what you want? To choke the life out of ME? Is that what you call love?' And I lit out of there like the devil was on my goddamn tail. The next day as I left school, Stockwell was standing outside. He wanted to know what I knew. He tried to shake me down. He pushed me up against a wall and called me a queer whore and a cockteaser. Then I told him that he had a lot of nerve calling me names when his own partner was a queer AND a murderer. But Stockwell just glared at me. A few days later Rickert shot himself in the head. Stockwell came back and told me it was all my fault. That Rickert had left a note, but Stockwell destroyed it, so I don't know if that was true or not. Stockwell tried to cover things up and botched it, as usual. But I stayed off the streets. I was afraid. Eventually I turned 18 and graduated from high school. I thought things were finally going my way. But it was 1950 and a month later I was drafted."
Brian sat up a little in the bed and shook his head. "Funny, but I ended up liking the Army. I ate like a pig and grew some more. They kept giving me aptitude tests and telling me I was smart, so they trained me as a radioman, which is an important job. I was good at it, too. I could take a radio apart and put it together again in nothing flat. I made corporal and then sergeant. That makes me laugh, Justin! I made sergeant way before Stockwell ever did in the Pittsburgh PD! Ha!" Brian snorted. "I was doing great. No one bothered me in the barracks, but if I wanted my dick sucked it was never a problem finding someone to do it. Life was okay."
Brian handed the cigarette to Justin, who took a puff. "But then there was Korea. Right, Brian?"
"The boy knows his history. You're correct, Mr. Taylor. There was Korea. And it was fucking cold there. Always freezing. Colder than Pittsburgh -- and that's pretty damn cold! They threw us out into this wilderness. I mean, there was nothing there but mountains and snow and people you couldn't see trying to kill you. I never knew where the hell we were or what we were supposed to be doing there. I just hung onto my radio to communicate with Command and hoped to God that I never had to shoot at anything, since I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Then, one crummy day, we just stumbled into an ambush. They were waiting for a big convoy coming down the road behind us, but we got there first, unfortunately. I didn't even understand what was happening at first. I heard a noise and suddenly guys were dropping all around me. And then I went down, too. I got one in the arm and the other in my chest, right in the lower portion of my lung. I rolled over and cranked up the radio and screamed into it to tell Command what was happening. I was working from pure instinct at that point. Someone must have heard me and warned the convoy about the ambush because by the time they got to our position they were ready. The next thing I remember was being in a helicopter, then a MASH unit -- that's like a field hospital. After that I was totally out of it. They sent me to Seoul, then on to Japan, but I didn't know where I was. My lung collapsed and I got pneumonia. I was really messed up."
"But you're alive now, Brian. All of that is in the past."
"I know, Sunshine. But I'm still messed up. I was in that hospital for months, then in rehab back in the States for even longer. When I came out I could hardly even stand up. I felt like a fucking ghost. I ended up back in the hospital with a relapse within a few months. And that's when I really made my big mistake."
"What do you mean, Brian?" Justin whispered. "What mistake?"
Brian stubbed the cigarette out in an ashtray that Justin pulled out of his nightstand. Justin had hidden it in the drawer, thinking Jennifer wouldn't find out that he was smoking on the sly. "I trusted the shrink doctor who was supposed to be helping me 're-adjust.' I told him I was a fag. He wanted details -- and I told him some. I think he was getting off on it. But it went into my record. Homosexual. An 'invert,' which means a cocksucking loony. However they phrased it. So on top of everything else, I'm labeled one sick bastard. Certified mental by the U.S. Army." Brian laughed. "Then they all flipped when I got awarded some medal for saving the entire convoy from an ambush! The queer gets a decoration! Who could figure THAT out?"
"Melanie said you won the Bronze Star, Brian. Where is it? I've never seen it."
Brian shrugged. "I lost it. Or threw it away. It was meaningless anyway, Justin. I found out later that everyone in my platoon died that day. Except me. Why? Why me and no one else? Why the faggot? The docs couldn't understand it, either. Queers are supposed to be weak and cowardly, right? So the shrinks decided that I might be fixable. They gave me electroshock treatments to knock the queerness out of me. That was standard procedure. After the second shock I had a miraculous transformation into a heterosexual! Amazing how that worked out. But they didn't shock me anymore. They discharged me and left me to fend for myself. I wandered back to the Pitts and then, later, I went to Penn State. You know most of the rest. And here I am."
They were both quiet for a while. Justin got out of bed and cracked open the window, trying to waft the smoke outside, but the snow began swirling inside the room. "Close the damn window, Justin, and get back into bed before you freeze your balls off," said Brian.
Justin slipped back beside Brian. The lights from the house next door were shining into the room, casting a weird aura over the bed.
"Justin, I've been thinking...."
"That... that maybe I should leave the Pitts."
Justin flinched. "Leave? Why, Brian?"
"Stockwell is never going to let me alone. He won't be content until he drives me away -- or until he kills me. Getting warned or suspended by that police captain isn't going to stop him. And I don't really want to die," Brian said. "At least not yet."
Justin felt the tears rising and then spilling onto his hot cheeks. "Where would you go?"
"A guy I know from Penn State lives in New York City now. I could stay there with him."
"Is he an old lover?" Justin asked fearfully.
"No, not at all. Clark is straight. He and this chick live together in the Village. But he was a good friend. He's a writer, too, working on his first novel. He writes to me occasionally. Last summer he went to Europe on a cargo ship. It's cheaper than a passenger liner. And he says that Paris was so inexpensive he wanted to stay longer, but his girlfriend got him this job at a publishing house as a copy editor, so he had to come back." Brian smiled slightly. "You know how it is with chicks, Justin -- always wanting to domesticate a guy." He touched Justin's soft face.
"Yeah," said Justin, his heart breaking. "You wouldn't want to get tamed by some little woman who wants to play house and keep you tied down."
"Anyway, I'd like to do that," Brian continued. "See Paris. Maybe bum around Europe for the summer. I could crash with Clark in the Village until spring and then get a ship overseas. I have some money saved up and I could sell the Ford when I get to New York and get a little more." Brian took Justin's hand in the dark. "We could travel light and live cheap. Just the two of us."
"We?" breathed Justin. His hand tightened around his lover's, their fingers intertwined. "We could?"
"Sure. You didn't think I'd go without you?" asked Brian. "My White Gold Angel."
©Gaedhal, December 2003.
Posted December 17, 2003.