BETTER MAN

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 1 of Chapter 99 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Ordinary World -- Part 2", the previous chapter.

Narrated by Justin Taylor, featuring Wade Anderson, Lindsay Peterson, Melanie Marcus.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin and Wade have a talk. September 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.

Once I finish my dessert at Lindsay and Mel's -- and the chocolate pie IS good -- I just want to get the heck out of there.

It's obvious that I'm not going to see Gus tonight, which was what I was hoping for. So I won't be able to tell Brian any of the little details that he loves to hear about Gus. What words he's trying to say. What toy he likes this week. Those things.

And my 'date' isn't working out too well, either! Poor Wade stares at me with terror throughout the entire meal. I don't know why -- I never thought of myself as particularly intimidating! But I imagine that Wade looks at me the way I looked at those guys on Liberty Avenue the first night I went down there. They were the first real live queers that I'd ever seen up close. They were older, they were experienced -- and they were out on the street -- unafraid.

So right now I just want to leave and get my butt over to Woody's for the "Olympian' promo party.

"I really appreciate you guys inviting me. The dinner was really good. And the pie was great," I say. Which is actually an exaggeration -- the pie WAS great, but the cashew chicken was only so-so. Lindsay needs to lay off the MSG.

"Any time Justin, any time!" says Mel, giving Lindz one of those 'this was your bright idea!' looks.

"Are you SURE you don't want to come to the promotion tonight at Woody's?" I coax. "Everyone will be there. Debbie is coming with Vic and Tim. You could sit with them."

"No thank you, Justin. It's just not convenient," answers Lindsay. Melanie presses her lips together, as if she's going to make some comment, but then she doesn't say anything. I'm glad. I don't need one of her bitchy little asides right now.

"Okay, then," I say, picking up my leather carry-all. "Maybe I could take Gus out sometime next week? Just for the afternoon or something? I finish classes at 2:00 on Wednesdays and Fridays."

"How nice of you to offer, Justin. Give me a call on Monday and perhaps we can work something out," says Lindsay. "Oh, Justin! Don't forget your pie!" She dashes into the kitchen and returns with the wrapped plate. Lindsay smiles as she hands it to me.

"Thanks, Lindsay. I'll be going now," I say as I head for the door.

She and Mel keep glancing over at poor Wade, like he's a suitcase that's been left on the conveyor belt at the airport with no one to claim him. They don't know what the fuck to do with him now that I'm leaving! Maybe this will teach them to stop matchmaking in the future.

But I turn and see the look on Wade's face and I feel sorry for him. "Wade," I call. "Would you like a ride home?"

He leaps to him feet. "Yes!" He's practically shouting. "I mean, if that would be okay with you?"

"Sure, I'll drop you off. Come on."

And Wade is out the door even faster than I am, leaving the Mommies shaking their heads behind us.

I start up the Jeep and slip my current favorite CD into the player. It's one I got in London. "Do you like Oasis, Wade?"

"I... I don't know. I've never heard of them."

"They're really popular in England. If you like the Beatles and pop music like that, you'd probably enjoy them." I adjust the sound on the player so it isn't blasting as loud as I like it when I'm in the Jeep alone. "These songs remind me of when Brian and I were in London, so I play them a lot."

I listen to a bit of the first song, 'The Hindu Times.' It was a big hit in London this summer. That and Elvis. And I love the chorus:

"And I get so high I just can't feel it!
And I get so high I just can't feel it!
In and out my brain --
Running though my veins --
'Cause you're my sunshine, you're my rain!"

I know it's stupid for my ears to perk up whenever I hear the word 'sunshine' in a song, but ever since Debbie started calling me that, I can't help it!

"Oh," says Wade, self-consciously. "I kind of like Dave Matthews, I guess. That's what all the guys at my school like."

"But what do YOU like, Wade? You must have your own tastes? Your own opinions about things?"

Wade coughs slightly, like he's clearing his throat. "I... I like Rufus Wainwright. But he's too... too...." He pauses and looks away.

"Too queer? It's okay, Wade. I'm a queer, too. I'm not going to tell anyone!"

"Right. That's right," he says, smiling slightly. "I like Rufus Wainwright, then."

"I like him too. I don't have one of his CDs here in the Jeep, so we'll continue with Oasis, okay?"

"Sure. Okay." Wade relaxes back into the seat.

We pull away from the Lesbian Love Nest and turn onto the main road. "So -- where do you live, Wade?"

"I live over near Squirrel Hill," he says. "But maybe -- if you don't mind -- I could go to that thing you're going to? At the bar? For that movie you were talking about?"

I look at Wade with new interest. "You mean you want to go to Woody's?"

"Yeah. Well, you said it's better if you go with someone you know," says Wade, nervously. "And I'd never have the guts to go into a... a gay bar by myself."

"I know how you feel, Wade. I actually went to Woody's the first time with my friend, Daphne."

"A girl? Is she, like, a lesbian?"

"Daphne? No, she's just a good friend. My best friend since elementary school, actually. She's the first person I ever came out to -- after Brian, of course."

"That's your boyfriend. Brian. The guy in the photographs." I glance sideways at Wade and see him lick his lips, thinking of Brian's pictures! "How did you have the nerve to tell HIM? Or did he already guess that you were, you know, gay?"

I laugh. "He didn't have to GUESS! HE picked me up! On Liberty Avenue!"

"Right on the street?"

"Sure. I went down there looking to get picked up. And a few guys tried to get me to go home with them -- but I was waiting for Brian."

"So, you knew him from somewhere else?"

"No. It's hard to explain. But when I saw him I knew he was the right one. The one I was meant to be with. I knew WHY I'd rejected the other guys who came up to me. Because I was waiting for Brian -- and there he was! I know it sounds weird, but that's how I see it."

"Weren't you scared?" asks Wade. "I mean -- some guy you didn't even KNOW? I could never do that!"

"I didn't think about it, I guess. I WAS scared, but once I was with Brian, I knew it would be all right. I trusted him -- which is a good thing, considering some of the things we did!"

"Gosh -- it was hard enough for me to walk into the Gay and Lesbian Center just to take an art class! But the thought of going with some guy I didn't know and... and...." Wade looks like he's going to be sick.

"Well, Wade, if you're really and truly a queer -- you'll do it. Eventually."

Wade ponders that for a while. "Ms. Peterson and her friend don't like your boyfriend, do they? I could hear them talking about him in the kitchen before you arrived." Wade seems embarrassed to have been eavesdropping on Lindsay and Mel dishing the dirt on Brian!

"I can imagine what they were saying! You probably expected this poor, dejected creature to come staggering in the door, full of woe, right? Because of the way I've been treated by the Big Bad Brian?"

"Something like that," Wade replies. "Ms. Peterson's friend called someone an 'asshole.' I didn't know who they were talking about at first. They made it seem like he was some guy who dumped you, Justin!"

"That's how much THEY know. Brian hasn't dumped me at all! They just don't understand. And it isn't their business to know MY business!"

"Well, whatever it is, they REALLY don't like your boyfriend. Brian, I mean."

"Actually," I confide. "Lindsay likes Brian TOO well. And Melanie is jealous of him. They're funny about it. Early on they spent a lot of time trying to get us 'together' -- like in a relationship -- but Brian was fighting it. See, he didn't believe in relationships or boyfriends. Now that we HAVE a relationship, they spend all their time trying to break us up! I just don't understand women!"

"Seems complicated," says Wade.

"Oh, it's even MORE complicated than THAT! Because Brian is the father of Lindsay's baby, Gus."

"You mean the little boy they took next door?"

"Yup. So it really IS difficult to untangle everything sometimes."

"I'll say!"

"At the bar I'll introduce you to everyone. But remember, Wade -- you are NOT my DATE! I don't want anyone to somehow get the word back to Brian that I was out with somebody else. Because he's VERY jealous -- you know what I mean?"

"Like he might... come AFTER me?" Wade's eyes are wide open.

"He might," I say ominously. I get excited picturing Brian all stirred up in a jealous rage -- even if it IS mostly my imagination. Mostly. "You never know. So just tell everyone you're another art student. That's true enough. And if you see anyone you want to meet, just ask. Everyone knows me at Woody's."

"Thanks, Justin. Really." Wade smiles a little. He IS kind of cute, in a goofy way, when he smiles. A little dorky, maybe. But he has potential. I wonder what his art looks like? If Lindsay thinks he can get into PIFA he must be pretty good. Unless that was just a lie to get him to come for dinner. But I don't think even Lindsay would do that. Would she? "Are a lot of your friends going to be at this bar?"

"Sure. Emmett will be there. He's probably my best friend in Pittsburgh. He's a little... queeny -- but he's a great guy. Very down to earth. He's a good person to talk to. He knows everyone and everything going on in the queer scene in Pittsburgh. And he'll want to take you shopping and help you pick out all new clothes."

Wade looks down at his polo shirt. "What's wrong with my clothes?"

"Don't worry. Em does that with everyone. He wants to 'remodel' every person he meets." Of course, I don't tell Wade that he could use a little remodeling. Of course, I'm not one to talk because I've been in need of a major remodeling, too, up until recently. And, I admit, I still usually dress like a high school kid. But I'm trying.

"He must know a lot about clothes and things."

"Oh, Emmett used to work in retail. And he reads all the fashion magazines. But Brian is the real label queen in the group. And he has beautiful clothes. All the best designers, like Armani and Prada," I brag.

"Wow," says Wade. "Sounds expensive."

"Oh, Brian only buys the best. Now Ted -- he's Emmett's good friend and boss -- he wears more mundane clothes. Nice clothes, but a little boring. He used to be an accountant, but now he works with computers. But he's a nice guy, too." I decide that telling Wade about Ted's porno website wouldn't be the best introduction to the guys. I don't think Wade would understand that aspect of queer culture just yet.

"They sound like interesting people."

"They are. Then there are Michael and Ben. Michael is sort of my boss. My part-time boss. He owns the comic book store down near Liberty Avenue."

"Hey!" says Wade. "I've been in there! Is he the short, dark-haired guy?"

It figures that Wade is a comic book reader. He probably collects them, too! "Yeah, that describes Michael. He knows everything about comics. I do his books and keep his website up to date, so I'm only in the store a few hours a week."

"That's a cool store. I bought some Green Lantern comics in there just a few weeks ago!"

Well, Michael has a fan. He'll be pleased! "And Ben is Michael's boyfriend. He's a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He's really hot, too. He works out a lot."

"Wow. Do you work out, Justin? I mean, a lot of the guys I see in... in magazines look pretty... developed." Wade blushes when he mentions looking at magazines. I wonder if he buys copies of 'Playgirl' on the sly -- or has a girl buy it for him, like I used to make Daphne? Before I was brave enough to walk in and take 'OUT' or 'Genre' right off the shelf at Borders and march up to the counter with it! Or maybe he's looking at those bodybuilding magazines. Yeah, the guys in those are REALLY 'developed'! And 'developed' would NOT be the word for Wade. He's definitely on the scrawny side. Not that I'm exactly pumped up.

"I never used to exercise much, except for dancing at Babylon. But I've been using some of Brian's equipment in the loft -- that's where I live. Just a little bit. I have a pretty high metabolism -- I eat constantly and never gain any weight. But I know that won't last forever!"

Wade nods his head. "I can't believe I'm talking about this kind of stuff, Justin! There's no one at school who I can talk to about... things. I mean, gay things. I'm the only fag."

"That's what I thought, too, when I was at St. James Academy. But there were others, I'm sure. Like there are at your school. But they're just hiding."

"Probably. Like I'm hiding, too." Wade is silent for a minute. "I know about you getting... attacked. At your prom. I... read about it last year. I remembered your name when Lindsay asked me to dinner. That's one of the reasons why I was so nervous."

I glance over at Wade. "No shit? Did you really read about me?"

"Sure," says Wade. "And I watched the coverage on TV. I... I identified with you. Totally. You were a gay teenager at a conservative high school, just like I am. And the jocks and guys like that were harassing you -- like they do to me, sometimes. Because they sense I'm different. Like they sense I'm gay, even if I've never done anything, you know?"

"I know, Wade."

"You were like a role model to me. Because you were out! You were brave! Because I knew I could never do what you did, Justin. I could never admit I was a queer -- not even to my best friends! I just couldn't! And I knew that I'd NEVER have the nerve to ask a guy to a dance -- or anything like that!"

"Well, I just did it, Wade. I never thought I couldn't do it. I guess I was naive."

"No, Justin, you were fearless! And that asshole that hit you got off! He got away with it! THAT really scared me." Wade's voice is quiet. "It also made me even more afraid to come out at my school. Or to my parents."

"I'm sorry that you're scared, Wade. Chris Hobbs got off, but he's STILL fucked up! That judge was wrong -- but that shouldn't make YOU afraid."

"I know -- but I am."

And that's the reality. I got bashed -- and queer kids are fucking afraid! No wonder Brian says you can't trust the legal system! I don't want to be cynical, but I'm beginning to think Brian really IS right about that. Because Wade is terrified to come out -- because he knows that if he's attacked then the asshole who did it will probably go free.

"You'll be okay at Woody's. And, see?" I tell him. "I'm still here. I was screwed up for a while, but I'm better now. Much better."

I stop the Jeep at a red light. We are almost to Liberty Avenue and I start to look around for a place to park. The whole street will be busy on a warm Friday night.

"That guy who you danced with," asks Wade. "The one they talked about in the articles and on the news? The one that saved you? Was that your boyfriend? I mean, the same one that you're with now? Brian?"

One of my favorite songs on the Oasis CD comes on just then:

"I wanna love you.
I wanna be a better man.
I don't wanna hurt you,
I just wanna see what's in your hand...

And I know you'll understand --
And I know you'll understand...

I wanna love you.
I wanna be a better man...

And I know you'll understand --
And I know you'll understand...."

They aren't the most profound lyrics, I know. Liam Gallagher is no Bob Dylan, that's for sure. But there's something about that song. I feel it's trying to tell me something. I imagine that it's Brian -- trying to tell me something.

I pull the Jeep into a parking space on a side street just off Liberty, not far from the diner. It's a spot where Brian often parked before we'd hit the bars. It seems as if every inch of this territory is inhabited by some memory of Brian. And now Wade really wants to know about him.

I turn and face Wade. "Brian. The one I'm still with. The one in my photographs. We've been together off and on for two years, ever since the night we met -- right HERE -- on Liberty Avenue." I peer through the windshield of the Jeep. "In fact -- right under THAT streetlight, over by Babylon."

Wade squints out at the street.

I turn off the ignition and sit back, thinking. "Yeah, I'd definitely be dead if Brian hadn't been with me in that parking garage. If he hadn't been there, at my prom."

"God, Justin," says Wade.

"Some people think that Brian provoked the attack by coming to the prom and dancing with me, but I don't believe that. Chris Hobbs, the kid that bashed me, had the baseball bat in his car. And he wasn't on the St. James baseball team, either! He'd been after me all year and he was just waiting for an excuse to hurt me. He was waiting to get me."

"Did he really want to kill you, Justin?" Wade whispers, as if it's a big secret and not the most public thing that has ever happened to me. So far.

"I'm sure Chris Hobbs would have hit me again once I was down," I say, grimly. "And THAT would have finished me off."

"But wasn't he running away?"

"Only because Brian came and chased him. Otherwise, he would have finished the job. I'm sure of that. But Brian stopped him. I can't remember everything that happened that night -- just bits and pieces of it. But that's one thing I KNOW for certain. Brian saved my life." I pause and swallow. My throat feels so dry all of a sudden. "I just wish that Lindsay and Mel and a lot of other people would remember that one fact."

"Jeez," breathes Wade. He just stares at me. "I'm really sorry, Justin. I... don't know what to say."

"There's nothing to say, Wade. It happened, that's all. It could have been any of us -- but it was me. And I have to live with it." Me -- and Brian, I think.

Wade and I get out of the Jeep and stand on the edge of Liberty Avenue. And I watch all the guys converging on all the bars and clubs and I wonder if it DOES have to do with anyone else but me? Or is it about EVERYONE else here, too? And does anyone outside of Liberty Avenue really care that I got bashed? Or that the guy who almost killed me walked away free?

Or does anyone care that I'm still paying for that night with the scars on my head and the twitch in my hand? Or with the nightmares that are still lurking just below the surface? Or that Brian is paying with his inability to either forget that night completely -- or allow himself to face it? I don't know. Maybe just it's my tendency to be a Drama Princess, but I don't think that is all it is. But it's business that's still unfinished. Among all the other unfinished business of my life.

"Um -- Justin?"

I feel him touch my arm. I've almost forgotten that Wade is there until he speaks. "What did you say, Wade?"

"Remember you said back at Ms. Peterson's house that I shouldn't expect, you know, a potential... fuck?"

"Right. I said that." Leave it to Wade to remember THAT!

"If you want to, you know, do it, Justin. I mean... with me. You could. If you wanted to." He's pressing a little closely against me. Too close, really.

"What are you saying, Wade?" I turn to him.

"If you want to fuck me, Justin... I guess it would be okay. But... you'll have to tell me what to do."

I try hard NOT to burst out laughing. But when I see his face it stifles any laughter. Because Wade looks so serious. And so terrified.

"I'm really honored by your offer, Wade," I say, carefully. "I really am. But I'm NOT the right person for that." I have a sickening flashback to the guy I fucked at Daphne's party last year. What a disaster THAT was! And something that I wouldn't want to repeat -- even if I weren't in love with Brian and determined to be completely faithful to him. No matter what.

"I... I just thought... that gay guys like to do it... and that you might do it for me. Because you seem to like me. A little bit." Now Wade is turning about ten shades of red.

I put my arm around Wade's shoulder. "No problem, Wade. You'll find someone who'll be only TOO willing to fuck you --believe me. You'll meet someone who you'll really like, maybe even love -- and you'll know he's the right one," I say, as we wait to cross the street in front of Woody's.

"But I like YOU, Justin!" he mumbles, stepping away from me slightly. "And I know you, too. I wouldn't want to be picked up by some stranger. No offense -- but I'd be too scared."

Jeez, I don't want him to think I'm rejecting him! But I also don't want the responsibility for Wade's de-virginizing on my hands!

"Listen -- after tonight you'll know a couple of guys. And Emmett and I will take you to Babylon next week. That is, if things aren't too hectic at school. But I promise that we'll go soon. And you'll meet plenty of OTHER guys there." I put the emphasis on 'other' just to make certain Wade understands me. Because I'm NOT going to fuck Wade. Not now, not ever!

"I understand," Wade nods. And he smiles at me.

"Okay, now!" I say, grabbing his elbow. "Let's get over to Woody's!"

Continue on to "Better Man -- Part 2", the next section.

©Gaedhal, October 2002

Updated October 30, 2002