BEING ALIVE

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 1 of Chapter 74 of the "Queer Realities" series.

The narrators are Michael Novotny, Jimmy Hardy, Lindsay Peterson, Dylan Burke, and features Debbie Novotny, Tess Hardy, Brian Kinney, The Coach, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: How do you know you're alive? Pittsburgh, May 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit.

"Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
And ruin your sleep,
And make you aware of being alive.

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short,
And put you through hell,
And give you support for being alive - being alive!
Make me alive, make me confused,
Mock me with praise, let me be used.
Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody hold me too close,
Somebody force me to care,
Somebody make me come through,
I'll always be there
As frightened as you of being alive,
Being alive, being alive!"

(Stephen Sondheim)

***

"I'm tickled pink for those boys," Ma says as she gets into my car. "When Brian and Justin were in here last night with Gus I thought they looked as happy as clams! Sunshine was smiling like crazy. And Brian -- well, Brian actually seemed content for a change. He was laughing and joking around, just like the old days."

"I'm glad for them, too," I say. I pull the new Camry away from the curb and head down Liberty Avenue. I've been driving Ma home after her shift almost every evening lately. I don't like her walking all the way home or waiting a long time for a bus. After all, she isn't getting any younger.

"I swear that kid looks more like Brian every day," she says. "And acts like him, too. He was flirting with me all through dinner."

"Well," I say. "I guess that means he's straight."

"Not necessarily," Ma returns. "He was flirting with Kiki, too!"

"Not a lot of three year olds can tell a drag queen from a real woman, Ma." I shake my head. "But Brian can turn on the charm with women as well as men. Brian can charm just about anybody."

"Anybody except Melanie," Ma guffaws. "She'll warm up to Brian when fucking Hell freezes over! But she only hates Brian because she knows Lindsay still has a crush on him. Some things never change, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," I say. "Some things never change." But I'm not thinking about Melanie.

Brian and Justin are back together and, like Ma, I'm happy. I really am. That's the way it should be. It seems like a lot of stuff keeps happening to pull them apart, but they always seem to end up together again. Since they're both a couple of drama queens, you can't expect things to go smoothly all the time. Or even most of the time.

On the other hand, take me and David. We've had our rough spots, but things are going smoothly now. Really smoothly. David's practice is picking up right where it left off before we moved to Portland and he has more patients than he can handle. He's happy that Hank is living with us and that puts him in a good mood. Most of the time.

I admit we have some problems. David is still a little controlling. Maybe a lot controlling. But that's his personality. He likes to handle things. And he likes things done his way. Which means he likes me to do things his way. So that's what I do. It's easier for all of us. Things run more smoothly when David is happy. And when David is happy, I'm happy.

I really am. I'm happy.

I'll miss Brian when he leaves town. Who knows when he'll be back again? Probably not for a long time. But I doubt he'll ever live in Pittsburgh full time again. He'll come back to see Gus and the baby. To see Lindsay. And me and Ma, and Vic and Tim, too. Ma says Justin is thinking about transferring to some art school out in California, so Brian won't even need to come back to visit him.

David says it's just as well if Brian isn't around. He still complains that I think too much about Brian. That I worry too much about Brian. But I can't help it. After all, he's been my best friend since we were 14. He's taken care of me and I've taken care of him so many times over the years. I can't imagine what my life would have been without Brian. Pretty lousy, I think. I know I wouldn't have even made it through high school without him. And I'd probably still be working at the Big Q or somewhere worse. I wouldn't have my comic book store. I wouldn't have done a lot of things if Brian hadn't pushed me. Encouraged me to follow my dreams. Helped me when I needed to be helped -- which has been a lot more than I'll ever admit. He's always been there for me. Always. And that makes it hard to think of both of us moving on with our lives.

Because it's hard for me to imagine my life without Brian at the center of it. Impossible, even.

But now I have to try to imagine it. Because that's the way it's going to be from now on.

Brian has a partner and so do I. Brian has a life that has nothing to do with me. And I have a life, too. A really great life.

Really, really great.

I love David. And that's all that matters? Right?

I drop Ma off at the house. She kisses me on the cheek. "Say hi to that handsome doctor of yours for me," she says. "And Hank, too. He's such a sweet kid. I expect you all for dinner tomorrow night, okay? Vic and Tim will be there, too. I'm making puttanesca. I know David loves my puttanesca."

"We'll be there, Ma," I tell her. I don't mention that it's Ben who loves her puttanesca, not David. But that doesn't matter now.

That's in the past. A lot of things are in the past.

I have to think about the future. And how great it's going to be. Me and David and Hank. A real family.

It's the only thing I can do.

***

"How do you like the house?" I ask Tess. She hasn't been in here until today. On the weekends when I have Annie, she usually just drops her off and drives away as soon as Annie's safely inside.

"It's very nice," she says coolly. She glances around, as if she's looking for something. Or someone.

I escort her to the picture window in the great room. "What do you think of that view?" I prod. "Fantastic, huh? Look at that ocean!"

"I didn't come here to look at your view, Jimmy," she sighs. "I've been to Malibu before. I've seen the Pacific. Shall we get down to business?" She takes some papers out of her purse as she walks over to the sofa and sits down.

This seems fucked up. "I thought we already agreed to a settlement? What are those papers for?"

"I'd like you to sign a personal agreement, just between me and you, that you won't do anything to embarrass me for at least a year after our divorce is final." She lays a document on the coffee table.

"What the hell do you mean -- embarrass you?" I pick up the piece of paper and look it over. This wasn't prepared by her lawyer. This looks like something Tess wrote on her computer and then printed out. "This has no legal standing! It's bullshit!" I toss it back on the table. "What do you think I'm going to do to embarrass you? What is this really about?"

"Is he here now?" she asks pointedly. "Has he been here when Annie is here?"

So, this is about Brian. Of course. Who else? "What does Annie say?"

"I wouldn't ask her that. She loves you -- and she loves Brian, too." Tess's mouth is tight. "That's why I'm asking you."

I wave my hand dismissively. "I can't believe you're making such a big fucking deal about Brian!"

"Is he living here?" she demands, her eyes flashing. That Italian temper coming out. "I know he must be out of rehab by now, but no one has seen him since... since the Oscars." She makes a pained face. Ouch! It wasn't a pleasant scene when she stumbled across me and Brian in that alley. "Is he hiding out here? In your little love nest?"

"Love nest!" I chortle. "That's a good one!"

"I'm glad you think this is so damn funny!" Tess says sullenly. "Because I don't think it's funny at all. You're a liar, Jimmy! A liar and a cheat! While you were filming 'The Olympian' you promised me -- assured me! -- that there was nothing between you and Brian. Then I walked in on you two right in my own home! So you promised me that it would never happen again. Begged me to believe you. Forgive you. And I did." She looks away from me, biting her lip. "But that wasn't the end, was it? You were with him last fall during the press tour. In New York. In Chicago. In London. You were sleeping with him then, too, weren't you? After you promised me that it was all over."

"Tess -- honey!" I sit down next to her. I try to hold her hand, but she won't give it to me. "You're my wife! Brian... it was just an on-set fling! I swear! Just sex! That's all it ever was."

"Then why did Ron kill himself?" she asks bluntly. "He worshipped Brian. He was obsessed with Brian. And he loved and trusted you, Jimmy. You were his best friend! Did he catch the two of you together? His lover and his best friend? Both betraying him? Is that what he couldn't live with?"

My stomach clenches. "Ron's death had nothing to do with me. I swear to God!"

"Yes," Tess says softly. "I know the value of your vows, Jimmy."

"That's low," I say. "Bringing up Ron. And Brian, too. They have nothing to do with us or our marriage."

"Don't they?" she asks. "Isn't this divorce all about you wanting a different kind of life? Well then, okay. You can make a different kind of life for yourself if you want to, Jimmy, but I don't want Annie to be hurt by any public uproar involving you and your personal choices."

"Uproar involving my personal choices?" I frown. "Oh, now I see what this is all about. You've been talking to Lew, haven't you? What did he tell you? Lew Blackmore is my agent and he has no business talking to you about my personal life -- or any choices I might make regarding my future. Lew isn't my father -- and you're not my mother, Tess!"

"Maybe Lew simply wanted to warn me," says Tess. "Maybe he wanted me to prepare myself for some big announcement you're planning to make. Or should I say, you and Brian are planning to make."

Ah, crap.

"Listen, honey," I tell her. "That's bullshit! Lew must have misunderstood something I said. There's no big announcement!" At least not yet. "Brian isn't even in town!" And won't be until the end of the week. "I haven't seen him in ages!" Not since his birthday last month. Which seems ages. "This isn't about Brian or anyone else, Tessy. This is about me -- Jimmy! About me trying to figure out what I want to do with my life!"

Tess stares at me. "What you want to do with your life?" she asks slowly. "You're an actor, Jimmy. You're a two-time Academy Award winner. That's what we've worked for all these years. YOUR career! YOUR success! Jimmy Hardy -- America's Boy Next Door. And Tess Hardy -- the Perfect Hollywood Wife. But now that's all screwed up. It's over! I have my own career as a producer now. I don't have to play your game anymore." Tess stands up suddenly. "Let Brian play it -- IF he has the stomach for it. Which I doubt. I think Brian is too smart for that. I think he's too smart for you, Jimmy. I could be wrong, but I don't think so."

I follow Tess to the door. "You know I'd never do anything stupid!" I insist. "And I'd never do anything to hurt you and Annie!"

Now Tess is glaring at me. "You already have, Jimmy! Don't kid yourself -- you make ONE mistake and the press will be all over you. Hollywood will be all over you! They love a winner, but they also love to see the mighty fall. And you're riding for a fall. A great big fat fall!"

She stamps out, leaving her home-made contract on the table. I glance over it. It's ridiculous. I take it into my office and buzz it through my shredder. So much for Tess's agreement! Ha! She can't touch me. No one can touch me!

Jimmy Hardy is golden. Always!

But maybe making a big announcement right now isn't the best idea. Especially not with all the bad publicity Chuckie Ranger is attracting for getting caught with the tranny hooker. That wasn't smart. If you're going to play straight in public and fuck guys in private, then you need to be discreet. Chuckie hasn't learned that, apparently. Picking up guys on the street is not the way to go. You need tricks who know the score. Or you need to call a professional escort service. You'll pay plenty for their silence, but it's worth every penny.

'Crash Course' needs to be a big summer blockbuster. It needs to make a shitload of money. I own a percentage of the gross and I need those funds, especially with this divorce pending. Ranger's bad publicity could fuck that up. And if people take the news about me and Brian the wrong way it could impact the box-office.

So I'll have to let Brian know that I'm holding off on the cover of 'People.' At least for the moment. I'm sure he'll be willing to wait. Maybe until after he finishes the Eastwood picture. We still have plenty of time to come out as a couple. All the time in the world!

Because no matter what Tess says, we're both golden. Me and Brian.

***

On Sunday evening I get a call from Brian.

"We're keeping Gus one more night, all right?"

Typical of Brian. Everything is always last minute and spur of the moment. "I left you three messages, Brian! We were waiting for Gus before we had dinner, but we finally couldn't wait anymore."

"Sorry, but we got hung up at the mall. Then we took Gus to that place where they have the big fucking rat."

"You mean Chuck E. Cheese?"

"Right. The cheese place. It was hideous. A thousand screaming kids and food that tasted like shit. Gus loved it." I can hear Brian cringing over the phone.

"You could at least have called me," I scold him. Sometimes Brian is as much of a child as Gus. "You knew I was expecting him for dinner. I was beginning to get worried."

"You knew he was with me, Lindz. I don't see the problem."

"The problem, Brian, is that we have plans too, and you can't just disrupt them whenever you feel like it. Besides, Melanie was upset," I tell him, lowering my voice. Mel is in the next room. "You know she worries about Gus!"

"You mean that she worries about him when he's with me, right?" Brian's voice is heavy with disdain. If only he and Mel didn't dislike each other so much my life would be a lot less difficult. "I'm his fucking father! If I want to take my son to eat rat pizza, then I'll do it. Jesus! You'd think I was taking him to a fucking sex club. Tell Mel if she doesn't like it, then she can...." But he stops. "Whatever the fuck. Justin and I will bring him back tomorrow afternoon. Will that be okay with Her Majesty?"

I start to tell him that Gus has pre-school tomorrow, but think better of it. Brian is right. He is Gus's father and needs to spend time with his son, especially since he's going back to California in a few days.

"We have some important stuff to do," says Brian before hanging up. "Guy stuff."

Guy stuff! Brian is so funny!

Melanie is giving Charity her bath. I watch as Mel rinses her off with a pink washcloth. She's been talking about seeing a new gynecologist -- a fertility specialist. Her last doctor wasn't able to do very much for her endometriosis, but this new one claims to have some new procedure that has been successful for other women.

I'm not certain why Mel wants to go through all of this. She'd never expressed an interest in having a baby before Dusty told her about that new doctor. When we first discussed having Gus, I was the one who really pushed her to agree to it. And then pushed even harder to make her accept Brian as the father.

But then Charity came along and now she seems obsessed with having a baby of her own. I don't want to discourage her, but I highly doubt it will be possible. Of course, if Mel did have a child, we'd have to make a lot of changes. We'd need to move. This house is barely big enough for the four of us, let alone five! And then there's our financial situation. I have to admit that if Brian wasn't extremely generous with his money -- and that's on top of the trust funds for both Gus and the baby -- we'd never be able to afford the lifestyle we enjoy. Without Brian I'd have to go back to work full time and Mel would have to work more hours. So if Melanie actually did get pregnant, we'd need Brian's money even more. She'd certainly have to take time off from her practice. Larry Jacobs would either have to take her cases or else find another associate to do it. But Mel seems determined to pursue this. We'll see.

I remember telling Brian once that having Gus, taking care of Gus, and loving Gus was what made me feel like I was alive. I knew that one day Brian would understand what was most important in his own life, what would make him feel the most alive. Perhaps he's found that now with Justin. With his new career in L.A. And with his relationship with his son, and in the future, his daughter.

Perhaps that's also what Melanie is looking for. Something to make her feel the way I do when I look at my beautiful children. I mean OUR beautiful children. Because Gus and Charity are Mel's as much as they are mine. Of course they are.

I wonder if I should suggest that Brian be the donor for her baby, too? I can imagine what she'll say to that! But if she really does have a child and Brian isn't the father, then our children won't be related! Mel doesn't have to like Brian that much in order for him to donate his sperm to her. If she uses an anonymous donor, then we won't know anything about him. I don't care for that idea at all. But I can't think of anyone we know who I'd want to father Mel's baby. Except Brian, of course.

Of course. Who else but Brian?

***

"Please give me a chance to explain! I think you owe me that much!"

"I don't owe you a thing, Dylan." Coach sits back in his chair and tries to stare me down. Tries to psyche me out. Well, fuck that shit! "Playing on this team isn't a right, it's a privilege -- a privilege that you've abused in unforgivable ways. What more could you possibly say that would explain your behavior?"

"It was a mistake," I say. "A lousy mistake! It could've happened to anyone! If some straight player was fucking around and got the clap, would you suspend him? No! You'd pat him on the back and tell him to be more careful. Boys will be boys, right, Coach? Except if you're a fag!"

Coach's face doesn't change at all. He only shakes his head slightly. "If you think I'd treat such behavior lightly with my heterosexual players you're wrong, son. STDs are a serious matter for anyone. The health of all my boys is paramount to me." He swivels his chair around and looks out the window. "What concerns me is that you apparently infected a number of your partners and then refused to acknowledge it." He turns back to the desk and picks up the anonymous letter that started this whole fucking mess. "That suggests that you have a reckless disregard for others, Dylan. And for yourself, as well."

"I'm pretty sure I know who wrote that letter, Coach," I state. "A guy who wants to get even with me! A guy who wants to get me into trouble!"

"A boy you had a relationship with?" Coach asks, his lip curling in distaste.

"He wishes," I sniff. "It was only sex. But he wanted more. He was jealous, so now he's trying to ruin me! If I lose my baseball scholarship I'll have to drop out of CMU. And that's the truth."

Coach takes a deep breath. He knows I'm the best player on the team. The strongest hitter. The one who has the best chance to make it all the way to the Bigs. And he wants that feather in his fucking cap! "That may be the case, son, but are you trying to tell me that what this boy wrote isn't true? Because you know that both Munro and Talbot have tested positive for gonorrhea."

"I know." I hang my head and try to look remorseful. "Yes, what Ethan wrote is true. But that's my personal life, Coach! It doesn't have anything to do with the team! It doesn't have anything to do with my talent as a ballplayer!"

"I agree that you're a talented athlete, Dylan," Coach says, wavering. "But when you joined this team and told me that you weren't going to hide your sexuality, we discussed a number of things we both would have to do to make that possible. One is that I wouldn't hold you to a higher standard than any of the other members of the team. That wouldn't have been fair to you. But one thing I did request was that you never, ever make your sexuality an issue on the field or in the locker room. And that included never coming on to your teammates or doing anything else that would make them uncomfortable."

"I didn't come on to them, Coach," I insist. "I swear! Both Talbot and Munro came on to me!"

Coach's mouth tightens. "That's not what they claim. They say you enticed them."

That's fucking rich! I enticed them! "Listen, Coach, I know I'm a pretty hot guy, but even I can't hypnotize two straight guys into having sex with me! Did they say I forced them? Did they say I drugged them? How did I accomplish this amazing feat?"

Coach squirms in his chair. He hates thinking about faggot stuff, let alone talking about it. "No, they never made any claim of force. If they had it would be even more serious for you, Dylan."

So far this whole thing about my suspension has been a fucking farce! The other guys know I've been suspended, but they don't know why. They only know that it's for 'personal conduct' -- which is what they always say when they suspend you, whether it's smoking dope, getting caught out after curfew on a road trip, or getting the Dean's daughter pregnant. Meanwhile, Jerry Munro and Matt Talbot go scot free! They're both juniors and decent ballplayers -- Jerry's a pitcher and Matt's a shortstop -- but nowhere near my level. But what Coach doesn't know is that Matt and Jerry have been boyfriends since their freshman year. They're a couple of queers, just like me, only they hide it. Hide it like most athletes. I say, fuck that shit! I won't hide! But I also won't out them to Coach. If he can't figure it out -- if the rest of the team can't figure it out -- that's their fucking problem, not mine.

So I play my strongest hand.

"You need me, Coach," I tell him. "You've lost three straight games and without me you'll lose even more. You signed me and gave me a scholarship even though you knew I was queer for one reason -- you wanted to win and you knew I could help you do that. That's still true." I stand up. I've played poker. I know that you never crawl away from the table with your pockets empty. Always leave when you have the advantage. This is that moment. "Thanks for listening to me and being so fair." I smile winningly and stick out my hand.

Coach hesitates. But then he takes my hand. Shakes it. Nods to himself.

That's it. I'll be back on the field before the week is out. And I'll concentrate on playing. Just playing. Doing the best I can -- which is fucking great!

So fuck Justin Taylor if he can't see how much better I am for him than that asshole Kinney. I don't need him. I can get any guy I want. All I need to do is play it cool for a while -- until they all forget this clap shit. Then everything will fine. Just fine!

If I can make a good showing this season the team will be well placed to make the play-offs next year. Then I can really shine. I'll show them all what I can do. I'll show Coach. I'll show the team. And I'll show that fucking Kinney that I won't screw up. I'll show Justin, too. I'll show everyone!

They can't keep Dylan Burke down! I'll be so fucking successful they won't be able to stand it! I WILL be the first out ballplayer. I know it!

And it'll be sweet. So fucking sweet!

Continue on to "Being Alive -- Part 2".

©Gaedhal, June 2006.

Posted June 15, 2006.