This is Part 2 of Chapter 74 of the "Queer Realities" series.
The narrators are Debbie Novotny, Tim Reilly, Dorian Folco, Emmett Honeycutt, and features Justin Taylor, Brian Kinney, Carl Horvath, Diane Rhys, 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.
"When are you and Brian leaving for California, baby?" I ask Justin
"Thursday," he says. He's sitting at the counter, doodling on a napkin while he waits for his order. "That's why I'm getting enough take-out for tonight and tomorrow. We'll need to clean out the fridge before we go, so I don't want to buy a bunch of food at the Shop N Save that we'll just have to throw out."
"Where's your Significant Other right now?" It's the lull right before the dinner rush and Sunshine's in no hurry to leave. "Packing?"
He snickers. "Don't let Brian hear you call him that. No, he said he was going over to Cynthia's to help her with some job stuff. Now that Ryder's been sold, she's looking for a new job in New York." He looks up at me and grins. "And she's getting married in August. Brian and I are going to be in the wedding party!"
"No shit?" I exclaim. "Strange to hear the words 'Brian' and 'wedding' in the same sentence."
"As long as he's not the victim, he seems all right with it," Justin says. "After I leave here I need to go to the pharmacy and pick up my allergy prescription. By then Brian should be finished at Cynthia's and ready to come and get me." He stops and looks at the napkin he's been drawing on. Then he writes something on the edge and puts it in his pocket.
"What are you doing there, honey?"
"Just a couple of ideas," he says. "I signed up to take an animation class at PIFA in the fall and I've been playing around with a few ideas."
"You sure you're going to be back here in the fall?" I ask. Michael seems to think that Justin won't be coming back to Pittsburgh when summer's over, especially since Brian will probably need to be out in L.A. for all his movie stuff.
Justin shrugs. "I don't know, Deb. I'm doing really well at PIFA and I hate to switch schools at this point. But I also don't want to be separated from Brian for months at a time. That's getting to be too hard for both of us."
"Yeah," I crack. "I wouldn't trust Brian Fucking Kinney out of my sight for two minutes! You gotta keep him on a short leash, Sunshine. It's the only way make sure he's a good boy."
But Justin frowns at me. "I don't have Brian on a leash! It's not my job to make certain Brian is a 'good boy.' We're both grown men, Deb, and we know what we want -- which is to be together as much as we can. But if we can't trust each other enough not to fuck up when we're apart then we might as well forget it."
Poor Sunshine! He acts so fucking sure that he and Brian have finally figured things out. Well, I wouldn't trust Brian to go down the hall to the bathroom without making a wrong turn, but I guess that's me. Justin is so young it scares me. He's so in love with Brian he'll buy anything that guy tells him. But we'll see. I just hate to see the kid get hurt again.
Juanita brings out Justin's order and I ring it up. "I put extra lemon squares in there as usual, hon." I hand him the bag as he hands me the money. "Don't forget to send me plenty of postcards from Hollywood!"
Justin leans across the counter and gives me a quick kiss before he leaves. "I won't forget. I'll send some to Vic and Tim, too."
He's such a sweet kid. I only wish I could say the same for his fucking boyfriend! Michael says that Brian's really changed since he's been in rehab, but I'll believe it when I see it.
The door opens and a man walks in. Not a regular customer, but he looks familiar. He's about my age, wearing a brown suit, brown shoes, and a brown tie. No, he's definitely not one of the usual Liberty Avenue crowd.
"What can I get for you?" I say, giving him a menu. "Specials are on the board."
He takes the menu but doesn't open it. "Thanks. Do you remember me, Mrs. Novotny?"
"Maybe," I say. Then it hits me. "You're that cop! From over a year ago. You were in here asking questions about a missing kid. Did you ever find him?"
"No," he shakes his head. "We never found a trace of him."
"That's too bad." I grab a cup and pour him some coffee. "You working on another big case?"
He smiles at me. He's got kind of a nice smile. "No, not really. I was checking out a few things in the neighborhood and I remembered this diner. Remembered that I ate a damn good hamburger here."
"We make a lot of damn fine food here, officer," I say proudly.
"Detective," he corrects me. "But you can call me Carl, Mrs. Novotny. Carl Horvath."
Now I'm smiling at him. "And you can call me Debbie. All the boys call me Debbie!"
Carl looks around a little nervously. "I guess I'm not really like one of your regular boys."
"That's all right, honey," I tell him. He has nice eyes. Blue eyes. "You're still welcome. Very welcome."
We look at each other for a few moments, not sure of what else to say. Then Carl says, "Thanks... Debbie. And can I have home fries with that hamburger?"
"You bet your ass you can!" I exclaim. "Home fries it is. I'll put the order in right now, so don't you run away, okay?"
"No, I'm not going to run away," he says. And he looks at me again with those blue eyes. "Debbie."
The way he says my name gives me a little thrill. I haven't felt that kind of thrill in a long, long time.
No, I don't think he'll run away.
And neither will I.
I'm finishing up some case reports when the phone rings. It's Rodney, one of our friends from Dignity, calling to invite me and Vic to dinner at his house after Mass on Sunday.
"We'd love to," I say, making a note on my calendar. I find that I'm always making notes these days. My memory isn't what it used to be. I don't know whether that's a consequence of my age, my meds, or the HIV, but it's true. So I write everything down.
"I'm trying out a new recipe," says Rodney. "Do you like lamb?"
"I love lamb," I say. "I love everything. I love good food." I know Rodney is a good cook. Not as good as Vic, of course, but then Vic was a professional chef before he got sick. Still, Rodney can turn out a great meal. "Anything we can bring? Salad? Wine?"
Rodney hesitates. "I was going to ask Vic to bring dessert, but I know he's been really busy lately."
And Vic has been busy. He and Emmett are starting up a catering business together. They've only done a few small parties, but Emmett -- as always! -- has grand plans for this venture. They actually make a very effective team. Vic has the cooking expertise and practical experience, while Emmett has the drive, the flair, and the big ideas. They're even thinking of hiring another person for the summer to help them with what Emmett expects to be an influx of 'fabulous' commissions.
"Vic would be happy to bring something," I tell Rodney. "Give him a call and see what he wants to make."
"I'll do that," says Rodney before he signs off. "See you on Sunday."
Sometimes life amazes me. A few years ago Vic was in a coma. He was as close to death as a man can be. He even told me that Deb had the priest there to give him the final Sacraments. And now he's alive and well. Starting up a new business. And we have a relationship that makes us both very happy. It's almost miraculous. I close my eyes and say a little prayer of thanks for that small miracle.
When I open them I see someone standing in my doorway.
"Hey, Tim. Bet you never expected to see me here."
He's right. I never expected to see him here in a million years.
"Brian -- please come in."
"Thanks," he says, stepping through the door.
He glances around the room, his dark green eyes always alert, always aware of his surroundings. He's like a wary cat, primed to flee at a moment's notice. Maybe it's the time he spent on the streets, or growing up never knowing when his father would explode, or just his instincts as a gay man in a world full of hatred and peril, but Brian is constantly on edge. A coil ready to spring. That's part of his mystique. His allure. I still feel it every time I'm near him. I can't imagine any gay man who wouldn't feel that draw. That aura of repressed danger.
"Please, Brian -- sit down." I gesture to the chair. And I notice how shabby it is. The plastic is ripped in more than one place. In fact, the entire office is shabby. The desk is old and battered, the file cabinets won't close all the way, the windows haven't been cleaned in ages. Suddenly I feel self-conscious. Brian is used to the best. Beautiful cars, beautiful places, beautiful clothes, and beautiful men. It makes me even more aware that I'm as shabby as this office. And I feel my age more than I have in a long time. 52 isn't old in this day and age, but it is when you never expected to live to see 40. And looking at Brian -- tall, strong, and magnificent in simple jeans and a black leather jacket -- I feel it even more.
"Can't," he says shortly. "Justin's waiting for me. But I wanted to stop by and say thanks. I appreciate what you tried to do for him -- and what you did for me."
I hesitate. Telling Brian about Justin coming to see mewasn't exactly the most ethical thing I've ever done, but I was certain it was the right thing to do. Of course, my own behavior in the past regarding Brian wasn't always ethical, either. In fact, it was exactly the wrong thing to do at the time. The problem I faced when I considered whether I should tell Brian about what was going on with Justin was how to do the right thing without compromising my own ethics. Also how to right a wrong that I'd done long ago to someone I truly care about. So I made the decision to break my pledge of confidentiality. I could only pray that I was correct. Apparently I was.
"I'm overjoyed that things are working out for you," I say sincerely. "You both deserve happiness. Especially you, Brian. That's all I've ever wanted for you -- happiness."
"It's been a hard climb, Tim," Brian says very softly. So softly it's almost as if he's saying it to himself. But he's looking at me the entire time. Directly into my eyes. "I didn't want to listen to you about Justin. When I saw you last year, after all that time, I know I was pretty flippant about our shared 'past.'" He makes a dismissive sniffing noise. "I even told you that I couldn't remember what we'd gone through or what we'd done together. I'm sure you know that was a lie."
"Everyone remembers the past differently, Brian," I offer.
"Yeah, I suppose so," he shrugs. "But I remember a hell of a lot. A lot I don't always admit to. My memories of you and the time I spent at St. Lawrence are all mixed up with what came afterwards. And with Frank Scanlon and that nasty little situation."
"What happened with Scanlon wasn't all your fault, Brian," I remind him. "He had his own problems. And if I hadn't introduced you to him...."
But Brian cuts me off. "We can both run in circles forever thinking about mistakes we've made, Tim. Fuck-ups that can never be corrected -- at least not in this lifetime. But you know my philosophy. No regrets. No excuses. But I do owe you an apology. I blamed you for a lot of the lousy choices I made when I was younger. But it was never about you. It was about me. Maybe fucking back then wasn't the smartest thing either of us ever did, but in a lot of ways it was what I needed at the time. And what I wanted." Brian pauses and takes a deep breath. "You gave me what I needed to survive. Someone who cared about me. Someone to love. Kindness. A place to escape. And a chance to make my life better. Maybe everything with Frank didn't work out very well, but I got my scholarship. I got to college. And from there -- well, I haven't done too badly."
"I always knew you would succeed, Brian," I tell him truthfully. "And you have beyond my wildest dreams. You had everything you needed -- beauty, intelligence, drive. And I know that you and Justin will succeed, too. That's all that was missing. For you to open up your heart to someone."
"You haven't done too badly, either," Brian says. "I know Vic is crazy about you. You seem to like him, too."
"I do," I say. "I love him dearly."
"Good," Brian nods. "That's the other thing about you, Tim. You've always been able to do what I thought I never could -- love someone. But now I know I can. And that makes me understand something else. I thought you abandoned me after I OD'ed at that motel. I hated you for that. Really hated you for a long time. But now I understand why you did it. You had to let me go for both of us. That's what you have to do sometimes -- let go. But you also have to know when it's right to hang on. And for me, this is that time."
Brian's words almost undo me. I feel the tears spring to my eyes, remembering those emotions and how hard that choice to leave was for me to make. But I pull myself together. Brian detests soppy sentiment. "I think you've made the right choice," I say. "And I think I have, too."
"Thanks," he says. Then he holds out his hand to me.
I walk around the desk and take it. Shake it briskly. But he pulls me into his arms into a tight embrace.
I remember when he was smaller than I was -- thin and gangly and almost delicate. A boy trying to act like a man. But now he is a man. Taller, stronger, a dominating presence. And I know that I'll always love him. But I'll especially love the boy that's still inside him. That child who lives at the core of his being. His soul.
"God bless you, Brian," I say. And I mean it with all my heart.
"You, too, Tim," he says. And then he's gone.
I need to get up and get dressed. I've already stayed too long as it is.
I have a meeting with Howie Shelton at 9:00, then with Tom Packard, the location coordinator, for lunch. The logistics of this shoot are going to be more complicated than anything I've ever done before and I'm going to need all the help I can get. Nick Parr is going to be one of my ADs again, but I'm also using a man who's worked on a number of Eastwood's Westerns, so he should be a good resource. I'll have four Assistant Directors altogether -- that's two more than I've ever needed before. Even on the 'Charisma' shoot up in Vancouver I only had two. But the stakes on this film are higher. So very much higher.
I hope Nick isn't going to give me trouble over that boyfriend of his. I refused to give the lad a role in 'Charisma' -- there wasn't one suitable for him. But it seems I can slip him into the ensemble for 'Red River.' He has the right look for the young cowboy, and he does a passable American accent -- there aren't many lines to the part. He claims he can ride, but we'll see during Cowboy Camp. If Rowan Conley can't keep up, then he's out, no matter how much Nick may piss and moan.
I have to get up. So I do. Grudgingly. This bed is far too comfortable.
"Hey." There's a stirring beside me. "Can I make you breakfast?"
I reach for my clothes, which I left on the chair. That is why I hate spending the night in someone else's house -- no matter how many times you've stayed over things are always a trifle awkward in the morning. "That's not necessary, really."
"It's no trouble. I like cooking breakfast." She sits up and stretches, pushing a long strand of hair out of her eyes. "Especially now that the season is over. It's great not to have to get up at the crack of dawn! Like you'll be doing pretty soon, Dori."
"You don't need to remind me." I search around for my socks. Where the devil are they?
"You sure you can't find a part for me in 'Red River'?" she asks with a sly smile. "What about a dancehall girl? Or one of the whores on the wagon train?"
"That wouldn't go down very well with your producers, my dear," I remind her. I find the socks shoved inside my shoes. "You are now 'America's Television Sweetheart' and playing shady ladies is not part of your image."
Diane chortles boisterously. She has a very high-pitched voice that makes me wince a bit. I'm not used to loud noises so early in the morning, especially loud female noises.
"My image! That's a hot one!" Diane gets out of bed and puts on a pink satin robe. Her blonde hair is tumbled around her shoulders and she looks rather like a ravaged Barbie doll. "Come on, Dori, let me make you some toast before you hit the road."
"Perhaps coffee, then," I agree. I need some caffeine to get me started this morning.
I should have gone home after bringing Diane back here last night, but I couldn't resist her offer of a nightcap. Things have been stressful recently and anything that allows me to relax is a welcome diversion.
And, I admit, Diane is a welcome diversion. Frankly, she is extremely welcome.
There are certain periods in my life when I gravitate to women. It's usually after a particularly harrowing relationship with a man explodes in my face. Or when I'm desperately in love with someone who cannot -- or will not -- return the emotion. Then I find women quite comforting. They wish to take care of you. To nurture you. Yes, to mother you.
It's not surprising that I received little mothering when I was growing up. My own mother was distinctly non-maternal. Her acting career and amorous pursuits interested her much more than her inconvenient child. As it was, I spent my earliest years with nannies, then in boarding schools. No wonder that Maria Montgomery, who was old enough to be my mother, was such an oasis in my emotional wilderness. She was an actress, too, but much different from Mamma. She couldn't have children of her own, so she was always taking in strays -- small animals, needy lovers, other people's unwanted children. And me. I suppose I was mad to marry her, but that's what she wanted at the time and I was happy to oblige. She knew that I also liked men -- liked them more than women, actually -- but she didn't care. And our marriage worked for a long time. We each had our affairs, but we also had each other. If one of Maria's films failed, I was there to prop her up. If I was having difficulty with my father, she took my side. Or when a lover walked out on me, she was there to bolster my spirits -- and I would do the same for her. Yes, it was an arrangement, but one that benefitted us both.
That's why it came as a shock when Maria asked me for a divorce so she could marry her young ski instructor. I knew they'd been living together -- I even visited them at her house in Lugano -- but I never thought she'd want to marry the fellow. But she did. That was right after I'd finished making 'Hammersmith' and was pining away for a man I knew I could never have, so it was a double blow.
And now, facing a hard shoot with 'Red River' and the prospect of seeing Brian and being near him every day -- not to mention directing his 'Red Shirt' project later this year -- it's fitting that I look elsewhere for the comfort I can no longer find with Maria. In that, Diane is a breath of fresh air.
We first slept together after the Oscars. Diane, the star of a hit television series, was my 'date' for the evening. Just two acquaintances who'd had a tad too much champagne. But I found her charming and funny. I enjoy being around someone who can make me laugh. Someone easy to deal with. Someone lacking in high drama. That's the thing about Brian -- he's always surrounded by drama. With a volatile French mother and an egotistical, controlling Italian father, I grew up in the middle of too much histrionics, so peace and comfort are things I tend to seek out.
Of course, eventually I'll tire of such domesticity and begin to get restless. The truth is that I need more sexually than any female can offer. But I think Diane is a practical woman. She seems to take things as they come. And take them with surprisingly good humor. So for the present this small affair suits both of us.
"So, how about some eggs with that toast and coffee?" she asks as I sit at her kitchen table. Her little dog -- once Ron Rosenblum's dog, as I remember -- yips and cavorts at her feet. Diane offers me a sly smile. "Armani wants a sausage. Should I put one on for you, too, Dori?"
Yes, this woman knows how to care for a man. "Why not?" I reply.
After all, if it's good enough for Armani, then how can I possibly turn it down?
Another night at Babylon.
Thumpa. Thumpa. Thumpa.
The beat is heavy, the music is loud, and the guys are hot. Red hot!
"When did Eighties Night become Nineties Night?" I ask.
The guy standing next to me at the bar shrugs. I don't know his name and he doesn't know mine. He's about 22 and very buff. I just bought him a drink. An Appletini on the rocks.
I remember when men used to buy me drinks. When I was a hot young thing. Then Justin came along and I knew I no longer passed for the hot young twink of the group. I think about all the fuss over Brian turning 30. Pretty soon it'll be my turn. Sooner rather than later, actually. And now I'm buying drinks for a hot young stud.
The beat goes on, as Cher used to sing back in the day.
Not that my life isn't great right now. Because it is. The catering/party planning business that Vic and I started is beginning to catch on. Lindsay even hooked us up with an art gallery where she used to work part time and we're putting on a party for them right in the gallery. And we also have an anniversary party, a few birthdays, an engagement party, and two corporate functions coming up in the next month. Vic says that soon we'll have to hire another person to help with the cooking and carrying. And we're also making money! I love it.
Guys are always asking me if I miss being Fetch Dixon. If I miss the fame and the attention I got from being the star of Jerk-at-Work.net. And I answer that I don't. It's true. And it's not only because Ted's website is now shut down. I did like the attention, I admit, but it wasn't worth it in the end. Most of the guys I met through the website were either creeps or guys who were more interested in Fetch Dixon than in Emmett Honeycutt. Fetch was a fantasy -- a nice fantasy, but still a fantasy. Fetch wasn't real and nothing I could do could ever live up to the expectations of guys who wanted Fetch and ended up with Emmett. So I'm not sad to see Fetch go away. He's a nice memory, but he's my past. Honeycutt and Grassi Unlimited is my future.
I went over to the stationery store to order more business cards today. I was flirting up a storm with Morgan, the English guy who works there. I could listen to that accent forever! It's so sexy it makes my toes curl!
I'd love to hook up with a guy like that.
I guess I'm still a romantic at heart. It seems that while everyone around me is partnering up, I'm still here, leaning against the bar, watching the guys go by, buying drinks, waiting for someone to dance with.
For so long it was just the four of us -- me, Michael, Ted, and Brian. The Four Musketeers. Michael, Ted, and I would stand right in this spot and scope out the guys. We'd watch Brian picking out his prey for the evening. Take bets on how many trips he'd make to the backroom. Ted would try to talk to some cute guy and get shot down. I'd get out on the dance floor and shake my tail feathers. And Michael would wait around to drive Brian home. Good times.
But when Justin arrived on the scene things began to change. We weren't even aware that it was happening at the beginning, but it was. First, Brian started to disappear early in the evening. He left before Michael even had a chance to drive him home. It was only later that we all realized why he was leaving early -- he was taking Justin back to the loft. Not every night, but enough to make a difference. Enough to change our -- what would Tim call it? Our group dynamics. Then Michael met Dr. Dave and they became a couple. I lost my roommate and, in many ways, my best friend, but you can't fight True Love. Teddie and I started hanging out together much more, but then 'See the Light' screwed me up for a while -- until I really saw the light, of course, and came to my senses. Then Justin got bashed, Brian left town, and... well, things have never been quite the same since.
But time marches on.
The hot young guy drinks his Appletini, but he doesn't seem to want to dance. I get it. He's biding his time. Checking out the scenery. He glances at me, but that's all. Well, I guess he's not The One. Looks like he's not even The One for Tonight Only. No big loss. There'll be other nights. Plenty of other nights. I'm in no hurry. At least not yet.
Part of me wants to find the Perfect Guy and settle down. I even found the perfect house for us to live in. It was in a magazine I saw at the dentist's office. When no one was looking I ripped out the page and kept it. It looks like a cottage from an old movie, with a white picket fence, a flower garden full of pink roses, a wrap-around porch, and a bright red front door. My Dream House. Some day.
The problem is that another part of me is a big old slut who is always looking down the road for something bigger and better. Mainly someone bigger and better. I'm afraid that even if I found the Perfect Guy and moved into that Dream House, I'd be eyeing the gardener or the UPS man before I even got all the pictures hung. I've made a lot of snippy comments about Brian over the years, but the truth is that I was jealous. We all were jealous. Jealous of his beauty and his hotness and his ability to make sex into an Olympic sport -- and then win all of the Gold Medals. If I was a big, butch, confident, fuck-it-all kind of guy, in other words, if I was Brian, then I'd do just what Brian did for all those years -- fuck every hot guy who crossed my path.
The last two people I expected to see here.
"Hey, Baby!" I greet Justin and his man. "And you, too, Brian. I thought you guys were getting ready for your trip?"
"We're all packed," says Brian. "Just taking one last break before we call it a night." Brian turns to the bartender and orders a Perrier with a twist for himself and a bottle of Rolling Rock for the young one. "Can I get you anything, Emmett?"
"Why certainly," I say. "A Cosmo, if you please."
Brian pays for the drinks and then hands them around. "No Ted tonight? I thought he'd be up in the Tweakers Gallery with all the other crystal queens."
I take a sip of my Cosmo. Perfect. "Ted isn't here -- and he won't be for a while. I hope."
Brian frowns. "Don't tell me...."
"Yes," I say. "He checked into rehab yesterday, thanks to some help from the former Father Tim. He called a good friend of his at Social Services and they were able to take Ted into their residential program."
"That's great news, Em!" Justin exclaims. "The last time I saw Ted he looked awful."
"Crystal is a bitch," Brian mutters. "He's got a long road ahead of him."
"I know." I don't mention that Brian's been down a long road himself. We aren't supposed to speak of such things out loud, especially in public. But I lean over and touch his arm. "As long as it'll help him?"
"It will," says Brian, sipping his Perrier thoughtfully. Then he sets the glass down on the bar and takes Justin's hand. "Come on, Sunshine. I think we have at least one more dance in us."
Justin breaks into a huge smile as they go out onto the dance floor. Justin slips his arms around Brian's waist and Brian rests his hands on Justin's shoulders. Their heads are together, their eyes closed.
Something by the Pet Shop Boys is playing. Some new mix of 'Break for Love.' I love that song! Makes me want to dance, too.
Maybe a little later.
For now, I think I'll just watch.
"Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share a little, a lot of 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 crowd me with love,
Somebody force me to care,
Somebody make me come through,
I'll always be there
As frightened as you to help us survive --
Being alive, being alive,
Being alive, being alive!"
Continue on to "A Beautiful Mess" -- the fianl chapter of "Queer Realities."
©Gaedhal, June 2006.
Posted June 24, 2006.