This is Chapter 39 of the "Queer Realities" series.
The narrators are Brian Kinney and Michael Novotny, and features Dr. Julius Gorowitz, Emmett Honeycutt, Justin Taylor, David Cameron, Hank Cameron.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian and Michael both face some new truths. Springhurst/Pittsburgh. March 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"I admit it, Doc. I'm afraid of all this shit. Emotions. Relationships. Love. I'm afraid to get close to anyone -- even Justin. But I guess it's too late for that, right?"
I rub my eyes. It's been a shitty day. Really shitty day. Ever since I woke up early this morning to see Justin packing up and taking off.
"This is stuff most people figure out when they're 18, but I never did," I continue. "I didn't know how to figure it out. And I'm struggling with it. I really am. But I'm not doing a very good job. I want to do the right thing, but I don't know how to... how to love someone." Ouch. Even saying that hurts. "I'm afraid to open myself up to anyone. It's always been a disaster. And I'm a fucking failure."
"Why do you assume it's always your failure, Brian?" Gorowitz asks evenly.
"Um," I say. "Isn't it obvious? I'm the one who always fucks up."
"Are you?" That blank face of his.
"Jesus, look at what happened with Ron! That was all my fault! I screwed that relationship up at every turn... and he ended up...." I can't even say it. Or think it. "I'm afraid to fail with Justin, Doc. Afraid I'm going to hurt him. And afraid to let him hurt me."
"Why do you assume he'll hurt you, Brian?" Gorowitz asks.
"Because he tried to get close to me! Because he did get close to me. People who get close can hurt you, Doc, and I couldn't deal with that. But every time I pushed Justin away he came rushing right back. That fucking terrified me. I tried every way I could think of to get rid of him and when none of them worked I... I ran away. But I could never really let him go completely. I still wanted that little thread to connect us. I was financing his education and sending him money for his expenses. He was living at the loft and driving the Jeep. That kind of thing."
"And was it only about money, Brian? About keeping him tied to you financially?"
"No. It was never about money at all. I wanted to keep him near me and taking care of him was the only way I knew how. But it was really about what I needed to go on. Even after I left for Los Angeles I called him constantly just to hear his voice. I never said a word to him, but I was still communicating with him in my fucked up way. I needed to know that he was still there, even if it was only through a fucking phone call. And I needed to know that he needed me on some level, no matter how tenuous. But I couldn't admit to myself how much I needed him. Wanted him. Because I didn't want to need Justin! Didn't want to want someone so fucking badly! Have you ever heard of anything so fucking pitiful?"
But Gorowitz says nothing to this. What the fuck is he thinking? Why doesn't he tell me what to do?
"So every fucking night I dialed that number. Or every time I got drunk, which was almost every night. Just to connect with him. To hear his voice. To know that he was there in the loft, thinking of me. I was so fucking unhappy, but I didn't know what the fuck else to do. If you need someone like that, love someone like that, then they have power over you, Doc. You're no longer free. You're weak. Vulnerable. And that's how I felt. That's how I feel. Weak. Vulnerable."
"There is nothing wrong with feeling vulnerable, Brian. Everyone feels like that. It's very human."
"I know," I say. "But I hate it. It reminds me of when I was a kid and afraid of my old man. Walking around scared to move, scared to speak, scared to think for fear of setting him off. I was powerless to fight back then. But I... I wanted his approval so fucking badly. For him to be proud of me. For him to... love me. Fucked up, huh? So that's when I ran away. Out of the frying pan and into the fucking fire. The only thing that saved me in New York was Ron. So how did I repay him? By killing him."
"You know that's not true, Brian."
"But it is true, Doc! And I did every fucking thing I could to make Ron unhappy. To punish him for loving me. The first time I ran away FROM him. And the second time I ran away WITH him. But it was the same thing. No wonder he... he... Shit!"
"You aren't responsible for the actions of other people, Brian. What Ron did was because of his own problems and his inability to deal with life. You hurt each other, yes, but you aren't responsible for his death."
I wince. "Then why do I feel responsible, Doc? Why?"
Gorowitz doesn't answer.
"New York. That's where the fucked up stuff really began. The drugs and the sex. Sure, I'd done both before, but not like that. Drugs and sex went from being a kid's hobby to a full time job. And I was dying, Doc. I was already dead, really. It was only a matter of time. Then Ron showed up with his fucking movie camera and his girlfriend and his cameraman. And I started to see a way out. But... it was wrong. I never should have gone to Ron. Never should have let him fuck me. Never should have... survived the whole thing. It was all a fluke."
"Is that why you're writing your screenplay about that time in your life?"
My screenplay. The Great Project. It's almost finished. And then what will I do with it? "I guess so. It's a way of trying to understand what was happening to me then. Trying to figure out what was going through my head. And through Ron's head, too. Putting myself in that place again. And in Ron's place."
"I don't know, Doc! I'm still trying to understand it. I always felt that I turned Ron queer because I seduced him and that was the beginning of the end for him. But... but I guess Ron must have already been a faggot before he met me. He just couldn't admit it. I used to blame myself for that, but I can see that he wouldn't have been open to fucking some guy if he hadn't been queer in the first place. And he wouldn't have kept being a queer after I left. There was no point... unless he really was."
"I think that seems rather clear, Brian. Sexual orientation isn't something that can be influenced by a single encounter, as you well know."
"Yeah," I agree. "I see that now. Ron was a fag, just like me. But it took me to bring him out. And then... I also used to wonder what my life would have been like if I'd had the balls to stay with Ron in New York and not run away. I used to imagine what my life would have been like then. How would my life be different if I'd stayed with someone who really loved me and who I wasn't afraid to love back. But... it wouldn't have worked."
"Why not, Brian? You seem so certain. How can you know that your life with Ron wouldn't have worked out?"
"Well... see, it's like this... Just believe me, Doc. I know. It might have been all right for a while, but... Trust me." I can't start telling the Doc all about fucking Fiona and her Alternate Streams! Her fucking visions! Gorowitz would put me in a straightjacket and feed me Thorozine all day for my delusions. "I know Ron. And I know me. It wouldn't have worked."
Gorowitz makes a note in his fucking notebook. Lunatic. Freak. That's what he's writing, I'm sure. Or else his fucking shopping list!
"Now I have this new fear. Justin needed me to take care of him, emotionally and materially, after his father kicked him out of the house and then again after he came to live with me after the bashing. I bitched about it a lot at the time, but I liked having him need me. I liked giving him things. Taking care of him. Doing things for him that his own fucking father refused to do. Because I could do it. I've always liked being able to give people things. It's easier than... than showing them how strongly you feel about them. Not to make them dependent, but... but...."
"So that they will love you, Brian?"
"Maybe. What the fuck do I have to give someone except money? That's what I thought. The only reason my old man ever wanted to see me was when he wanted a handout. But it made me happy to take care of Justin. My friends all made jokes about Justin being my boytoy, but Justin was never anything like that! He never asked for anything. Not a fucking thing! Justin was always with me because he wanted to be. Always! And it felt good to be needed like that. I enjoyed being able to get him nice things and take him amazing places. But now... Justin doesn't need my help. He's got his own money -- thanks to Ron, ironically. He's got his art and he's starting a real career and being recognized for his talent. That's all his doing. Nothing to do with me at all. His talent. His vision. He could... walk away. Anytime he wanted to. Just... walk... away."
Gorowitz examines his fingernails, casually. "Why do you assume that he would want to walk away now, Brian? Why assume that he loves you only for what you can provide for him? Hasn't he made a commitment to you? A serious commitment to be your partner?"
"Yes," I whisper. "But... he might. He might find a better kind of life. Or he might find someone... better. Someone easier. I'm not an easy person, Doc. I'm a hard, stubborn, fucked up person, Doc. And Justin deserves someone who can put him first. Someone who isn't... isn't me."
Gorowitz sits back and gives me that razor-sharp look. Here it comes. "Why isn't Justin here today, Brian? Why did your partner leave before our session today?"
Wham. Direct hit. I shake my head. "I don't know. I... I don't want to speculate. He's tired, Doc. He's stressed. He... left. What can I say?"
"Did you argue, Brian? Did you have a disagreement about something?"
"No. I was trying to be understanding, like you are always telling me. But it was like Justin was angry and trying to provoke me. I have no fucking clue why."
"Did you ask him?"
"Yes!" I shout. Then I stand up. "I need a cigarette."
"Sit down, Brian," Gorowitz commands. "I think we must move on to the next stage of your therapy."
I sit. "The next stage? What the fuck do you mean?"
"Relying on yourself," he says firmly. "Because if you depend on Justin to determine whether or not you are going to be sober and in control of your life, if you use your partner as a crutch, then you will never get well. Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you, Brian?"
"Yes." I can't stop my hands from trembling. I'm beginning to get the message. But I wish I wasn't. "I understand."
"Spill!" says Emmett, yelling so loudly that I have to pull the phone away from my ear.
"There's nothing to spill," I insist. "We went to dinner and then to a movie. It was a really boring, breeder-type date."
"There's nothing boring about a date with your ex," says Emmett. "Especially when that ex is your favorite professor!"
"Well," I admit. "I am kind of excited that we might be getting back together. But I said 'might,' Em! It isn't for certain."
"I think you should invite him over to your place and have a romantic dinner for two and then very unsubtly seduce him. That way your intentions will be crystal clear!" Emmett has always believed in the direct approach.
"But what if he only wants to be friends?" That's my biggest fear. That Ben is only humoring me. I mean, our breakup was pretty nasty. We both felt a lot of hurt over what happened. I trusted Ben and finding out that he had slept with Ron -- fucking Ron, of all people! -- was the shittiest thing I could think of.
But the problem is that I still have strong feelings for Ben. And I think he has feelings for me. I think. So we're taking it very slowly. We've met a few times for lunch. And Ben has come over to the store to talk. Just friendly stuff. No pressure.
Last night was the first time we 'went out.' And it was weird. It reminded me of that first time I went to dinner with David. The 'first date.' You aren't sure what to say or how to behave. And it's worse when that date is with a guy who you've already lived with. Already made love to. Already had what you thought was a committed relationship with. Yeah, that makes it even more awkward.
"So when are you two going to get together again?" asks Em. "Preferably to get down to brass tacks?"
"It isn't that simple, Em," I remind him. "We don't want to fuck it up this time. I think it's better if Ben and I take it slowly and don't jump into something that we aren't ready for."
"Ready for?" Emmett howls. "What more do you two need to know about each other? Unless... you don't love him anymore?"
"No," I tell him. "I still love Ben. I'm pretty sure that I do. I think about him all the time. And I think he might still feel the same way about me. But I want to be certain this time! I want our relationship to last."
"Then get to it, sweetie!" says Em. "You aren't getting any younger! And I don't see you getting any better offers. How long has it been since you got laid?"
"Just shut up, Em! Not everything is about sex."
"Sure it is, honey!" says Emmett. "And if it isn't, then the relationship is already in trouble. Hey, did you hear about Teddy and his boytoy?"
"You mean Wade, that twink friend of Justin's? What about him?" I don't know much about Wade except for his reputation as a kid who'll fuck and suck anything that moves. Poor Ted can't catch a break in the relationship department.
"The boytoy gave Ted his walking papers. I saw Teddy in Babylon last night drowning -- and snorting -- his sorrows away."
"Ted is better off without that kid," I say. "Wade was nothing but trouble. He's the biggest slut in town and he's still in high school! Who does Ted think he is? Brian?"
"Ha!" Emmett laughs. "Poor Teddy! If he didn't have bad luck then he'd have no luck at all."
The door of the store opens, ringing the bell. "Hey," says Justin, unwrapping his scarf and dumping his bookbag on the counter.
"I'll talk to you later, Em. Justin just came in."
"Bye for now, sweetie. And say hello to Justin for me," Emmett says before signing off.
"Emmett says hi," I tell Justin. "I haven't seen you around in a while. What's up? School keeping you busy? That and visiting Brian every weekend, I bet."
"Yeah," he shrugs. "Pretty busy. Can I put up a poster in here, Michael? It's for the 'Warholized' exhibit at the Warhol Museum. I have a selection of my computer pieces in it -- including that picture of you as a superhero."
"Oh, wow!" I exclaim. "I forgot all about that! You did those months ago, didn't you? And now they're going to be in a show?"
"I did them last semester," says Justin, taking some posters from his bookbag and unrolling them. "The opening is next Saturday night. Your piece will be in it. And the one of Em as Jackie Kennedy. And Lindsay as Marilyn Monroe. And Brian...."
"Of course, Brian!" I laugh. "He has to be there. Is he coming down for the opening? I can't imagine that he'd miss that."
"Um, no," says Justin, looking away. "He can't be there."
"Oh," I reply, disappointed. "I'm dying to see him. I talk to him on the phone a couple times a week and I e-mail him, but I really miss seeing him. It's not like the old days when I'd see Brian a couple of times a day, right?"
"No," says Justin, vaguely. "Not at all like the old days."
"Listen, Justin, I know that I promised I'd give you some more outlines for the comic book. What you've done already is really great and I have a lot more ideas, but I haven't had time to write them down yet. I just did inventory at the store and... some other stuff is going on."
"What kind of stuff?" asks Justin.
"Well, Ben and I have... well, we've sort of been seeing each other again."
Justin seems surprised. "Really? I didn't know that. That's great, Michael. I like Ben."
I grin. "So do I! But didn't Brian say anything about it the last time you saw him? I've been keeping him updated. You know how Brian is -- he pretends he doesn't give a shit, but he gets mad if you don't tell him every little detail!"
"No, he didn't say anything about it," Justin frowns.
"I guess you two have better things to do when you visit him than to discuss my dismal love life, huh?" I say, jokingly.
"Yes, we do," Justin returns. He isn't smiling. "I have to get going, Michael. If you want me to draw some more sketches for your comic you'll have to give me something in writing. Even a basic plotline. I can't work from nothing, you know?"
"Sorry, Justin," I say. "I'll get on it as soon as possible. And thanks."
Justin nods and goes out the door. I don't know what it is but he's acting kind of strange. Abrupt. Not at all like Justin. I guess he has a lot on his mind lately.
I take out a big pad of paper and try to get down some of my ideas so the next time I see Justin I'll be more prepared.
I'm working on some new plot outlines when the door of the store clangs open and a kid of about 14 comes in. He's wearing a black and gold Steelers jacket. I don't pay much attention because kids come into the store all the time, especially this time of day, between the end of school and dinner time. This is where I spent most of my time when I was a kid. And also when I wasn't a kid.
The boy looks around and then approaches the counter, very tentatively. Finally, I look up.
"Hi, Michael," he says, shyly.
I just stare for a moment. "Oh, my God -- Hank!"
"Yeah," he grins. "It's really me!"
I can't fucking believe it! Hank Cameron! David's son. I rush from behind the desk and grab hold of him. And he's hugging me back, too. Hugging me hard, like he doesn't want to let go.
"You must have grown five inches!" I'm almost shouting. I haven't seen Hank in almost two years. During the fairly short time that I was living with David out in Portland, Hank and I got really close. We both like a lot of the same things -- comic books, superhero movies, chicken-fried steak, the Cartoon Network, Japanese anime, and Diet Pepsi. Of course, Brian always used to say that the reason Hank and I got along so well was that we were both 12 years old. Asshole. But I guess it's kind of true. Seeing Hank standing right in front of me reminds me of how much I've missed him. And how much I fucked up my relationship with David.
"Michael, your store is so cool!" Hank cries as he looks around.
"I'm pretty proud of it," I tell him.
Then Hank looks down. "I... I really miss you, Michael."
"And I've missed you, too, Hank. But how did you get here? What the heck are you doing in Pittsburgh?"
Hank shrugs. "Living here - I guess."
That stops me. "Living here? In town?"
Hank nods. "My dad's moved back here for good. We're back in his old house. And I'm living with him now. My mom and other dad, Gary, split up, remember?"
"Sure, Hank," I say. "I remember. And I remember how upset you were. That's one of the reasons your father wanted to move out to Portland. So he could be with you."
"My mom decided that she didn't want to stay in Portland after she and Gary got divorced, so she moved back to Iowa, where she's from. Then Dad decided that he wanted to come back here and I asked if I could come with him! I'm 14 and I'd rather live with my dad now. He's starting up his practice again. He's gonna take me to see all the games! He got me this Steelers jacket! Pretty cool, huh?"
"Very cool, Hank. And it's swell that you're living here." And I really mean it.
"I was so depressed after you left Portland, Michael. It was horrible," he admits. "Dad was awful to be around. After you left he was really depressed. He was always in a bad mood. And it was even worse at home with Mom and Gary. They were so busy screaming at each other that I couldn't stand it! I didn't know where I belonged and I had nowhere to escape to. And nobody to talk to, either." Hank's face is forlorn. "I was getting stomach aches every single night from all of the stress."
"I'm so sorry, Hank! I wish I'd been there for you." Jeez, talk about feeling guilty!
"I wish you had, too," he says in a small voice. "But it wasn't your fault, Michael. I know you were unhappy in Portland, especially without any of your friends, or your mom and uncle. No to mention all of your stuff being in storage." Hank laughs. "But now you have everything! All of these comic books! And your toy robots!" He points to the display case where I have all of my collectibles. "And Captain Astro, of course!"
"Yes," says a deep voice. "Always Captain Astro."
Hank and I look up. And there's David standing in the doorway of my store.
That's when my fucking heart stops.
"Hi, Dad!" says Hank. "I was just telling Michael about how we're living in Pittsburgh!"
"That's great," says David. He walks in and looks around warily. He's also wearing a black and gold Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, exactly like Hank's.
"David," I say. "When Hank walked in you could have knocked me over with a feather. And now... I can't believe that you're here."
"You look wonderful, Michael," David says. And I recognize that look in his eye. "Good enough to eat."
"You look good, too, David." And he does. Maybe there's a little more gray in his hair, but I think it looks distinguished. And David is in great shape -- as usual. I start to feel that old pull in my crotch. David could always get me excited.
"So, you're back in town." I say, lamely.
"Yes, back in town for good," he smiles. "We only moved back here last week. And now I have Hank with me. That makes me very happy." David turns to his son. "Hank, why don't you pick out a few comic books for yourself. My treat."
"Oh, no!" I interrupt. "They're on me! Anything you want, Hank."
"Thanks, Michael!" he crows with delight. He runs over to the bin, looking for Scorpionhead comics.
"You don't have to do that, Michael," David says, quietly. He leans in close to me.
"But I want to," I reply. "You know how I feel about Hank."
"Yes, I do know how you feel about Hank." David leans in even closer. "But how do you feel about me, Michael? That's the real question."
"About... about you?" I hold my breath.
"Michael, I won't beat around the bush here," says David. "You know my style. I know what I want and I say what I think. The move to Portland... it wasn't the right time for you. I understand that now. You didn't have time to think about what you were doing -- and I was inconsiderate of your feelings about leaving your entire life behind to follow me. Yes, I treated you like a little wife and not like an equal. I regret that. Watching Lori's marriage to Gary break up and seeing what it did to both of them -- and to Hank -- has made me rethink a lot of my own behavior."
"What are you trying to say, David?" I ask. And I can feel my knees shaking.
"Michael, I want to try to make it work again. I know we can make it. I'm willing to try if you are. It would mean everything to me and it would mean a lot to Hank, too. Because I still love you, Michael. And I hope that you still feel the same way about me."
I stand behind the counter, stunned. When I opened the store this morning I never thought that my life might change so radically. Might. That's the word. Because I've always had strong feelings for David. Always. But....
"David, I really don't know what to say."
"Say yes," he says. "It's that simple."
"No, David, it isn't." I look around, hoping that someone will swoop into the store and save me. Someone strong. Someone who can make me know what I want in a moment. "I... I'm sort of seeing someone. We were living together last year and then we had a... a sort of breakup. But we're trying to get back together."
"But you aren't together now?" David's eyes rivet me in place.
"No, not exactly." I'm squirming.
"You aren't living with him. You're broken up. That doesn't sound too serious to me." David's face is so close to mine. Like he's going to kiss me.
I have to move back. "It is. Or it was." Now I'm fumbling around.
"Who is this guy? What does he have to offer you that I can't?" David demands.
"His name is Ben. He's a professor of Gay Studies at Carnegie Mellon."
"A professor, huh?" David frowns, like he didn't expect me to be going with anyone like a professor.
"And there's another thing," I say. "Ben's HIV positive."
I can see the shock in David's face. "Michael, you can't be serious about this guy! Do you know how... how dangerous that is? You could be taking your life in your hands! Do you have sex with this man?"
Now I'm getting annoyed. I almost forgot how David thinks he can run my life. "We have had -- before our breakup. But we were always careful. Always."
David is about to say something else when Hank comes up to the desk with his comic books. I get a bag to put them in.
David picks up one of Justin's flyers. "What's this?"
"You remember Justin? Brian's partner? His art is going to be part of an exhibition at the Warhol Museum. It's opening this weekend."
"Oh," David sniffs. "I remember that kid. And I read they were still together in some gossip column. Where is good old Brian these days?"
"Working out of town," I say vaguely. "He's pretty busy. Anyway, one of Justin's pieces is a portrait of me. He did me as a superhero. I'm going to hang in the Warhol Museum! For couple of weeks at least."
"Were you planning to go to this art opening?" David asks.
"I guess so. I hadn't really thought about it. Justin only dropped these off today." I pick up one of the flyers. Justin's name is second on the list of artists.
"How about being my date?"
"Um, your date?" I reply.
"Remember when you took me to that other art exhibit at the Gay and Lesbian Center that Justin had some pictures in? Of Brian, mainly. That was quite an evening." David makes a face. "Brian was on his best bad behavior."
"There was only one drawing of Brian!" I remember that picture Justin made of Brian's dick. Brian was so smug about it that he bought the thing for a hundred bucks! "And Brian won't be there this time. Justin told me that he can't make it."
"Then that's perfect." David reaches across the counter and takes my hand. "We could go to dinner first, then to the museum. So how about it?"
All sorts of emotions are running through me. And then there's Ben. The man I still have feelings for. The man I think that I love. But I feel the words popping out of my mouth.
"Yes," I say. "I'd love to go, David. To dinner and then to see Justin's stuff at the Warhol Museum. It should be fun."
David smiles. "I hope it will be more than just fun, Michael. And more than just a date. I hope."
More than just a date. But what?
And what am I going to tell Ben?
Continue on to "Warholized".
©Gaedhal, March 2005.
Posted March 29, 2005.