BETTER MAN

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 2 of Chapter 99 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Better Man -- Part 1", the previous section.

Narrated by Justin Taylor, featuring Wade Anderson, Emmett Honeycutt, Ted Schmidt, Cynthia, Charles, Hailey, Vic Grassi, Tim Reilly, Debbie Novotny, Michael Novotny, Ben Bruckner, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin and Wade go to the promotional party for 'The Olympian' at Woody's. 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.

On Liberty Avenue Wade follows me so closely I can practically smell his fear. It would be funny if he weren't so truly and deeply scared. So it takes guts for him to come here to Woody's with me, I've got to give him that much. He keeps looking around, like someone will see him, recognize him. I want to reassure him that if he sees anyone he knows here, then that person is just another queer, too, and he shouldn't worry. But I just grab his arm and pull him across the street and up the stairs into Woody's.

The first person I see when we walk in is Cynthia. I'm surprised. I wasn't expecting HER to be here, but it makes sense when I think about it.

"Justin!" Cynthia waves me over. She's standing with another woman and a man, both in business clothes. "This is Hailey and Charles -- Charles is from the publicity department of Terra Nova Pictures and Hailey is the liaison for Castles in the Air Productions." The first is the studio that made 'The Olympian' and I recognize the second as Jimmy Hardy's own production company. 'Castle in the Air' was his first big hit movie back in the 1980's. The two people shake my hand, but look a little mystified as to why Cynthia is introducing us.

"You guys have a good turn out here tonight!" I say. "I told everyone I know to come. And they told everyone THEY know." And the place is certainly packed.

"This will be wonderful for word-of-mouth on the film. We are hoping for strong support in the gay community," says Charles, a little pompously. He's pretty obviously straight -- and very uncomfortable in this setting. The woman -- Hailey -- is enjoying herself. She smiles at me and whispers something to Cynthia. It's obvious that she and Cynthia are enjoying this assignment a lot more than the uptight Charles.

"Justin, we'll be having some contests and drink specials and a lot of other things leading up to showing the trailer and the clip reel. So we'll want to get started in a little while," says Cynthia, taking me aside. "I'm wondering who you think would be better to introduce the material? Charles or Hailey?"

I don't even have to think about it. "Hailey. Definitely. Better a fag hag than a squirming straight guy!"

"My thoughts exactly. Now, if we can just convince Charles of that!" Cynthia laughs. "But I was wondering if YOU would like to introduce the trailer, Justin? I have the information printed out right here. And everyone DOES know you here." Cynthia smiles. "You WERE the King of Babylon, so you have a certain cache."

I stare at Cynthia. "How do YOU know about THAT? I mean, about the King of Babylon? It's not like it was in the newspaper or anything!"

Cynthia raises her eyebrows at me. "How do I know? That's ALL my boss talked about for DAYS afterwards! I couldn't very well NOT have known about it! First bitching about it. Then dismissing it. And then BRAGGING about it! I got SO sick of hearing about YOU that I wanted him to shut up, already!"

"I didn't know Brian ever talked about me to anyone at work," I say, still a little in shock.

"Not ANYONE. But to me, certainly. If you work for Brian you have to know everything about his life. And I mean everything. Because sometimes I had to be ready to cover for him. Or work around him. Or even work behind his back. Like when I was trying to dig up dirt on that slimeball Kip Thomas to help Brian in his sexual harassment case. Luckily, Thomas dropped the suit before I had to dig too far. But I found out a lot of not so nice stuff about old Kip."

"Really?" I say, my ears perking up. "Like what?"

"Like that Kip accused a professor of the same thing when he was in college. Trading sex for grades. Caused a lot of grief for the professor. And I might have found out more, too, if I'd have continued looking. It seemed like a pattern with Kip."

"Jeez," I say. "What a creep." I can hardly wait to tell Brian this bit of news.

"So, will you do it, King?" Cynthia prods me with her elbow.

"I guess so. If you think I can."

"You'll do just fine. Pretend you're Brian up there giving a pitch."

Picturing myself as Brian is a bit of a stretch -- but it's fun to think about.

The bar is getting more crowded and Cynthia and I move back a bit, into the corner. Wade moves with us. Shit. I've almost completely forgotten about Wade. "Cynthia, this is my friend Wade. He's an art student, too. He's here to see the trailer. It's his first time at Woody's."

"My first time, too, Wade, so we're even," says Cynthia, shaking his hand.

"Hi. Gosh, it's really busy in here. Are all these guys, you know -- gay?" Wade's head is practically swiveling, taking it all in.

"Well," says Cynthia, "I can't vouch for every guy here, but let's say that this is the first time I've spent so much time in a bar when I never even got a LOOK, let alone got hit on!"

"Sorry, Cynthia."

"I'm not complaining, Justin. I'm just commenting."

I see Emmett and Ted across the room and I'm just about to lead Wade over there when Cynthia stops me. "Justin, one more thing. I just wanted you to know that... well, earlier this year, after Brian first went out to L.A., I was in touch with him a lot. More than even Marty Ryder realized. Keeping Brian aware of what was going on -- all that sort of thing. While he was deciding what he was going to do about his job and everything. But the first thing he always asked me was how you were doing. I was... sort of keeping tabs on you. At school and at the diner. And when I'd talk to you about the loft and your expenses and things, I was always trying to gauge how you were. I mean, if you were really okay. And that's what Brian wanted to know, too. So that you should never believe that he wasn't thinking about you -- even when it seemed he didn't care."

"I know," I tell her. "Because Brian was calling me at the loft almost every night. So I knew that he was thinking of me. I just was never certain WHAT he was thinking."

"He was calling you? Every night?" Now it's Cynthia's turn to be surprised.

I nod. "It's a long story."

"Well, Mr. Taylor, we need to have lunch VERY soon! Because I need to hear about this. And about a lot more things, as well. I'll call you about it," Cynthia says. And then Hailey, the promotions woman comes over to talk to her, and Wade and I duck out.

We weave our way over to Emmett and Ted. They've managed to hold on to a good table with a prime view of the largest of the screens that Charles' assistants have set up. There are other large-screen televisions also placed in different parts of Woody's.

"Baby, I am SO excited! A real movie! Starring BRIAN! This is TOO much!"

"Yeah, too much," says Ted, glumly. "Nice crowd. I knew that Brian had done a lot of guys, but this is a great turn out even for THAT!"

"Don't be crude, Teddy, especially in front of the boy!" Em smiles his gap-toothed smile at me. Then he notices Wade. "And who might THIS sweet young thing be?"

"Emmett, Ted -- this is Wade. He's thinking of going to PIFA. I'm showing him around."

Ted cocks his head. "I wasn't aware that the Institute had an Adopt-a-Queer-Student program."

"Very funny, Ted. This is Wade's first time at a bar. So be nice to him." I turn and look at Wade -- and he's smiling at Ted. And I notice that Ted is smiling at Wade. This is interesting! I look Ted up and down. I've always thought he was good-looking in a kind of geeky way -- just like Wade is kind of cute in a geeky way. Maybe that is a sign. "Ted, maybe you could get Wade a drink? While I talk to Em?"

"Sure. I'd be glad to." And Ted isn't kidding! He stands up and takes Wade's arm, guiding him to the bar. Emmett and I watch them move through the crowd.

"Did you bring him for Ted?" says Emmett, nodding approvingly.

"No, Em. The munchers set him up as my blind date! That's what the dinner was all about.

Em stares at me in shock. "You MUST be kidding, Baby! Lindsay and Mel set you up on a blind date? With HIM? What's his name?"

"Wade."

"Wade, yes. Um, did they forget that your current boyfriend, besides being the Sex God of Liberty Avenue, is also an about-to-be-famous Movie Star? What are they, Delusional Dykes?"

"I guess, so, Em. They MUST be." I sink down into the chair next to Emmett. "They both seem so against the idea of Brian and I together that they are constantly doing things to undermine our relationship. I used to think it was unintentional. You know, that they were doing it unconsciously. But this, Em -- this was deliberate. They are TRYING to break us up -- all in the name of being for 'Justin's own good'! Shit, Emmett!"

"Oh, Baby! What are you going to do?"

"Nothing. Ignore them. TRY to ignore them. Whenever I go over there I'll just have to steel myself for some new onslaught. And I don't look forward to that."

"And what about Little Miss Muffet over there?" Em and I glance over to the bar, where Ted seems to have bought Wade his first illegal beer.

"Wade's a nice kid. And it was shitty of the munchers to get HIM involved in this. But maybe it'll work out okay. I was going to ditch him at his house, but he wanted to come here. And he really seems to like Ted."

"Are you sure Wade isn't a crystal queen or a hustler or a porn-site wannabe?" Emmett chortles.

"None of the above, Em. He's a high school student. And a genuine virgin. That IS certain. This is Wade's first time out anywhere."

"My, my. Teddy may have discovered the twink of his dreams. But that polo shirt has GOT to go! And those loafers!" Em is clucking with disdain.

"He's just a kid, Emmett. He hasn't had time to develop that aspect of his queer gene!"

"But YOU, Baby! Where DID you get these clothes and why haven't you been wearing them every day of your life?" He holds me at arm's length to take in my brown leather pants and blue silk shirt.

I laugh. "I got them in London, Em, where else? And I wore them tonight just for YOU!" I stop. "And for Brian, too. He loves this shirt." I look down at the blue silk and picture Brian picking it off the rack in the Men's Department at Harrod's and holding it up to my chest.

"It's beautiful, Baby. And YOU look beautiful, too."

Just then Michael and Ben push through the crowd. "You cannot believe the line of people waiting to get in! I thought we'd miss everything!" Michael says.

"Ron will be pleased to see this kind of response -- and they haven't even watched the trailer yet! I'm told that the reaction in other cities where they've done the promotions at gay venues has been just as good," says Ben, glancing around. He looks like he's taking notes in his head. I keep forgetting about that book he's writing about Ron. He's in touch with Ron and the studio pretty closely for information on 'The Olympian.'

Cynthia comes over to our table. "This is a fantastic turn out! Looks like we are going to show the clips again for the people who couldn't get in for the first showing. The studio is going to be very pleased!"

"Why don't you sit down with us, Cynthia?" I ask, moving over to make room.

"I can't, Justin. They're going to start the contests now. I've got tee shirts and stuff for all of you guys set aside, so let the other people win, okay?" She winks at me. "It wouldn't be fair otherwise!"

The contest is a trivia quiz, mainly about movies with gay stars or old campy classics. Ben mouths all the answers the second that Hailey, who is standing on the stage with a microphone, reads the questions.

"Where's Uncle Vic?" shouts Michael after a run of Bette Davis questions. "He knows ALL of these!"

"I bet they're stuck outside," I say, noting the bottleneck at the entrance of the bar.

"They're going to miss the trailer!" moans Michael.

"I'll go and get them!" I say, standing up.

I push my way through the mob inside Woody's and then out the door. Sure enough, Deb and Vic and Tim are trying to get in.

"Sunshine! Over here!" calls Debbie from somewhere in the middle of the line. I drag them up to the front, ignoring the complaints of the other guys waiting. "They'll show the trailer again!" I shout. "Everyone will get to see Brian! Don't worry!"

"Yeah!" yells one guy at the end. "But not as much of him as YOU'VE seen, Justin!" And the whole line erupts in laughter.

"Jealous!" I reply, and move back inside.

The contests go on for a while and I notice that Ted and Wade are missing. I find them at the bar, deep in conversation. Since Ted doesn't know anything about art and Wade doesn't know anything about porno websites, I can only imagine that they are talking about accounting! Or something equally as boring. But if Wade is busy, then he isn't bothering me, so I'm grateful to Ted.

Finally, while Hailey and Charles are handing out tee shirts and posters to the trivia winners, Cynthia comes and gets me. "Here is the copy, Justin. You can read it -- or you can say whatever you want to say. Only make certain to get the name of the film correct and mention the November opening."

"I think I can manage that."

She escorts me to the stage and I climb up. The guys start hooting, "Take it off!" and "King of Babylon!" A few yell out, "Twink! Twink!"

I hold up my hands. "We're all here to see the trailer and a selection of clips from the new film 'The Olympian.'" I check the information printout. "This film, which is opening at your local theater in November, is presented by Terra Nova Studio in association with Castles in the Air Productions and is written and directed by Ronald Rosenblum..." I pause and look down at the sheet again. "And stars Jimmy Hardy, Sir Kenneth Fielding... and Pittsburgh's own BRIAN KINNEY!" And, of course, the place explodes!

There's so much noise that I wait for a minute or two before I continue. But this time I don't have to look at the notes Cynthia gave me. I just speak from my heart. "I don't need to tell you all how important it is that every one of us goes and sees this movie. Because they don't make a film that portrays a story like this very often -- and that is a love story about gay men that doesn't pull any punches. A story that tells the truth about OUR experiences. OUR lives. OUR loves. And they may never do it again if this film doesn't do well. Let's face it -- if it isn't a HUGE hit! So, go and see it again and again. I mean it! It's important not just for Brian's career... but for all of us. So that we aren't invisible. So that people can see that we aren't afraid. So that people might think twice about hurting someone just because they are different..." I have to stop and swallow. "Because that's what 'The Olympian' is about."

I stand up on the stage and stare out at the crowd, searching my mind, my heart, for something more. There's so much -- but I think I should let the movie speak for itself. "And that's all I have to say. So, let's see the film clips!"

Someone offers me a hand and I climb down from the stage and the bar goes dark as the trailer rolls.

I'd read Brian's script when he came back to Pittsburgh for his two week 'rest' -- and I've read the book, too, but that doesn't prepare me for seeing Brian up on a big screen. And it's not even a full-sized movie theater screen. But it is still a shock. And seeing Jimmy, too, and Sir Ken. All these people I know so well. And yet it is a completely different thing. Because the people I see on the screen are NOT the people that I know -- they are now the characters from 'The Olympian.'

There's Brian as Bobby, in his skimpy track clothes, looking impossibly tall and beautiful, with Jimmy as Guy, his coach, gazing at him. Bobby runs and the scenes look so amazing -- Brian's long hair blowing back. He looks like a real runner -- thin and taut -- his legs pumping.

And then Brian, menacingly sexy in a black leather jacket in a shadowy gay bar, grabbing hold of Jimmy by the front of his shirt, taking him into an alley and pushing him against a brick wall.

"Brian didn't need any direction on how to do THAT!" I hear Michael whisper to Ben.

"Shush!" Ben whispers back.

Then there's dead silence as Brian -- or Bobby -- rips open Jimmy's shirt and runs his hands slowly over his bare chest. I'm getting hard watching it -- and I'm not the only one! I can't believe this is part of the trailer!

Then there's a flash of Brian's ass from another scene -- I think the one with Sir Ken as his mentor. That gets another eruption of cheers. I can't hear any of the lines because the crowd is getting so rowdy!

Then Brian with that line that was cut from the original trailer -- "I run like I fuck -- with my whole body!" Which is the unofficial queer catchphrase of the whole movie. I can already hear the line being repeated all over Liberty Avenue, by every guy, in every situation!

Then, a moment later, the trailer is over. But it's followed by a reel of longer clips that flesh out the plot a little more.

Brian and Jimmy talking in a locker room. Sir Ken talking to Brian. Brian fighting with another runner who has called him a faggot. Jimmy having a conversation with an older actor, who is playing his father, I think. Brian in the leather jacket at the bar again. Brian and Jimmy kissing, Brian's tongue in Jimmy's mouth. The scene is hot, like the earlier one in the trailer, but it still makes me uncomfortable. Brian and Jimmy together.

And another sequence that I know is from near the end. The Olympic Trials -- the track meet where Bobby is killed. They don't show that moment -- the gunshot -- but I know the story too well. I know it is coming.

And I have to turn away. I can't look at the shots of Brian running and running, getting ready to fall. I remember the ugly scrapes all over his legs when he came back to Pittsburgh. They were from all those falls on the cinder track that he had to do over and over again. I turn back to watch and think how thin and wasted he looked then -- but on the screen he looks impossibly beautiful and perfect. Like a movie star. A real star.

Finally, the lights come up and the whole audience is cheering and applauding. Hailey and Charles and Cynthia beam with satisfaction. They go around the bar, passing out more posters and other souvenirs. Everyone is buzzing. But I just feel numb.

"Jesus, Sunshine! Is the whole movie that intense?" asks Deb, shaking her head.

"I think so," I say. "I think it is. Intense." Yes -- that's the word.

"If the entire film lives up to those clips," says Ben. "It's going to be fantastic. Better than I ever imagined. And it LOOKS gorgeous, too. The way it's been filmed and cut. Ron did an amazing job. He's a talented director. I always thought so. He just needed a chance to show what he could do."

"Well, I think BRIAN deserves most of the credit," replies Deb, pointedly. "I mean, HE'S the whole movie! Jimmy Hardy is a big star and all, but he's obviously just supporting Brian! It's the actors that really make it."

"But don't discount the importance of Ron's screenplay and direction, Deb," retorts Ben. "There wouldn't BE a film without that!" And Ben and Deb go back and forth about it.

Vic and Tim sit there watching Ben and Debbie argue, then they look at me. "It's going to be a stunning film," says Tim. "I just can't believe that's Brian. I mean, it's hard for me to reconcile him to that kid I used to know."

"Me, too," says Vic. "And Brian is going to be a big, big star, Justin!"

And that's when I have to run into the bathroom and be sick. Because it hits me what it all means. What it means to be a big star. The things we can never do again. The privacy we can never have. And the fact that I'm not certain if there's even room for me in this new universe that Brian will be living in. The realization that maybe Ron has been right all along -- that Brian really DOES need Ron to guide him through it all. And that I'm the one who has no real place anymore.

And that's where Emmett finds me. He knocks on the toilet stall door.

"Baby, we are going over to the diner now. Debbie says that the lemon squares are on the house!"

"Thanks, Em."

"They are clearing this place out and bringing in a new crowd to do it all over again, Baby. Did you see Ted and your friend? They are already joined at the hip! It's TOO cute! Come along with us and we'll decompress together, all right?"

"Sure, Em," I say, coming out of the stall. I'm trembling a little bit. "Jeez -- I guess Lindsay put way too much MSG in that cashew chicken and it didn't agree with me."

"I'm sure that's it, Baby," he says, gently.

I wash my hands and face to steady myself. And I look at myself in the mirror. My face is blotched with red.

"It really was wonderful, wasn't it, Emmett?" I say. I want to be truly certain.

"It was, Baby. It really was. Wonderful."

And I nod to Emmett. It was. It IS. So why do I feel so horrible? And so lost in the crowd?

That night I wait for Brian to call. I want to tell him about the promotion party. About the trailer and the film clips and how I stood up in front of everyone and introduced his film. How everyone howled and cheered and got hot during the love scenes. And how they were so impressed. How I was so proud.

I need to hear his voice. To reassure myself that everything is all right. That WE are all right.

But Brian doesn't call. It's Friday night and Brian knows I don't have to get up early. But he still doesn't call. I hold my cellphone in my hand, willing it to ring. And I finally fall asleep sometime after 4:00 a.m.

All night long I have bad dreams about Los Angeles. And about Brian. About someone running and running, with no end in sight. Running from some kind of trouble. But I can't tell what. I just can't tell.

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

©Gaedhal, October 2002

Updated November 3, 2002