This is Page 2 of Part 1 of Chapter 122 -- The Finale of the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to Page 1 of "Boats Against the Current -- Part 2", the previous page.
Tess opens the door and smiles. "Come on in, Justin," she says, hugging and kissing me. "I'm so glad you're finally here!"
"I'm happy to be here, too," I reply. My voice echoes in the cool entryway of the house. "It was kind of a long trip."
The house is beautiful and spacious, but it seems quiet, like Tess is the only one here. She takes my bag. It's one of the set Brian bought me before we went to New York.
"Jimmy called me from Toronto this morning. The weather is lousy there. But I think he was glad to get away from... from everything here."
I think about what Jimmy said to me the last time I saw him, when he was drunk at Ron's wake. How he grabbed my ass and told me he wanted to fuck me. I don't know how Tess deals with him. But I know that Tess really loves her husband, even if he is an asshole. Not to mention a major closet case. "Are things okay? I mean, between you two? You and Jimmy?"
Tess shakes her head sadly. "I don't really know, Justin. Is anything okay with anyone right now?"
"I guess not," I say, following her into a beautiful sunken living room. It's all decorated with tropical flowers. A white Christmas tree stands in the corner. It looks like something from a magazine. So perfect, and yet so empty.
"No, Justin, things aren't right with anyone these days. Except with Annie -- she's wonderful!" Tess smiles, but her face looks tired. I see lines around her eyes that I've never noticed before.
I hesitate to ask, even though I've come all this way for that single purpose. I take a deep breath. "Well, where is he? I know he's here somewhere and I want to see him."
"I'm not going to be the one to stop you, hon!" says Tess. She walks out on the lanai and looks down. There is a tumble of black rocks leading down to a sweeping beach. The sand is so white and pure and the ocean is so blue that I almost gasp. It really is a beautiful place. I think about how Ron wanted his wedding to take place in this very spot. Brian told me that he laughed when Ron suggested it. But when I see this beach, the ocean, the sky, I think that it's perfect for a wedding... but I can't even think of things like that now. Or ever. Because that's something I'll never experience in my life. And I have to accept that simple reality.
I follow Tess's gaze and see two figures on the beach. She shows me the pathway down, with wooden stairs ending at the pure, sugary sand. She walks down the steps beside me. "You better take off your shoes, Justin."
Brian and Annie are sitting in the sand together, looking out at the waves as they come in. Annie is holding Brian's hand. She turns her head and sees Tess and I walking down the beach. Annie smiles and waves.
Brian glances around and sees us, too. But then he looks away -- back at the water.
Tess motions for Annie to come over and she stands and runs toward us. "Justin!" Annie hugs me tightly. She's wearing a white sundress and looks very grown-up suddenly, like a woman. Her legs are long and tan, like Tess's, and she has Jimmy's goofy, lop-sided smile. "I knew you'd come!" she says. "Brian needs you."
My heart lurches when Annie says that, so innocently.
Tess puts her arm around Annie's shoulders and they walk back up the beach, towards the house.
I sit down next to Brian in the sand. He's wearing tight, white linen pants, slung low on his slender hips, and no shirt. His bare chest is all golden and the heart charm catches the late light like a drop of bright blood. His arms are slightly burned from the sun and his skin is starting to freckle on the back of his shoulders. His face looks so beautiful in the weakening sunlight as he stares at the water, with his long lashes blinking slowly and his veiled eyes all gold and green.
My breath catches in my throat. My first sight of Brian took my breath away and it still does, even now. Especially now. Even the emotional roller coaster I've been on for so many weeks can't stifle the thrill I get when I look at this man. My partner. Mine.
"You shouldn't be sitting out here under all these ultra-violet rays, Brian," I tell him. "You're starting to peel." His shirt is lying in the sand next to him. It's green gauze and almost transparent. Leave it to Brian to be the best dressed rehab fugitive ever. I shake the sand out of the shirt and put it around his shoulders. His skin feels like fire. Just touching him makes me almost lose it right there and I have to pull my hand away. It's like handling a hot coal.
He still won't look at me. "What the fuck are you doing here?" he says sullenly. "Don't you have a real life somewhere else that you can live? Why are you still stalking me?"
I huff out a bitter laugh. "Because that's what I am, Brian. Your stalker. Your fucking conscience. I told you that I would follow you into Hell. This doesn't quite look like I pictured Hell, but looks can be deceiving, you know?"
"Go the fuck away."
"Why didn't you tell me where you were going, Brian?" I persist. "I would have understood. I would have supported you and been there every step of the way. I could have waited in L.A. for you to finish up your 30 days in rehab and then been there when you got out. That's what partners do, Brian." I smile at him. "Anyway, it's no big deal, right? Tess says that even Jimmy was in rehab a few years back. She says it's practically a requirement for a big star. Sort of a rite of passage."
Brian closes his eyes. "Fuck rite of passage! And fuck you waiting in L.A.! I don't want you to waste your life waiting around for me, Justin! You deserve better than that. Why do you think I fucking sent you away? Why I had Ramon wrap you up and carry you off like a Christmas package? Because you wouldn't have gone any other fucking way!"
"You're right, Brian," I agree. "I wouldn't have gone any other way. But you shouldn't have sent me off without at least trying to explain things! I'm your partner and I deserve a little fucking consideration!" I wait, but he doesn't answer. "So? How did it all work out without me?"
"It didn't!" he spits. "And you fucking well KNOW it didn't! I fucked up outside and then I fucked up again inside that goddamn place. That Desert Palm. Detox was a fucking nightmare. And after it was over... I... I couldn't stay there. So I walked out the door. I fucking failed! That's how it worked!"
"No!" I assert. "You didn't fail, Brian! That just wasn't the right place for you! You aren't a failure! And you aren't a fuck-up. Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone. Even you. Because as much as you don't want to admit it, you're human. And human beings screw up."
He shakes his head. "Now that fucking cop will get his wish. He's just itching to toss me in the slammer and throw away the key. Either in jail or else... that other fucking place -- the Spencer Pavilion. And I... I can't do that, Justin. I can't fucking well face it."
"I know you can't, Brian. I wouldn't want you to go there. No one who loves you wants that. But Brian -- listen to me. You HAVE to go back to Los Angeles," I tell him seriously. "They won't arrest you. They only want you to get some help. If you can just find a place and stick it out for 30 days -- that's nothing! You can do 30 days standing on your head! I believe that you can do it!"
But Brian just turns away. He doesn't want to look at me. He doesn't want to acknowledge what is right in front of him -- that I'm here and that I'm not going anywhere.
"I know you do, Justin," he says so softly I almost can't hear what he's saying. "You fucking believe in me. Well, I don't believe in myself anymore. I know Tess called you to come here and 'save' me. Because she's fucking sick of dealing with me. Everyone is. I almost ran out when I realized what she'd done. All I wanted to do was get out of here as fast as I could." He digs his long feet a little deeper into the sand. "But I didn't know where the fuck to go."
"But you didn't leave, did you?" I answer. "You stayed. Because you were waiting for me to come and be with you, weren't you, Brian?"
"Don't you fucking realize that I don't want you to go through this shit?" Brian snaps. "I don't want you here, coaxing me to stick it out and suck it up. I don't want to hear you, of all people, telling me what I need to do to be a man. I... I can't stand that! Not your pity. I wanted to be spared that, if nothing else."
"I don't pity you," I say quietly. "I love you."
"I can't take that, either!" he cries. "Don't love me, Justin! Never love a failure and a fraud! You're too good for that. Don't waste your youth, your life waiting around for me. Because I know what I have to do, but I don't have the fucking guts to stick it out. I'm just... floundering. Like Ron. Slipping backwards into the abyss. I'm just like Ron. A failure. And a fucking coward."
I didn't want to do this. I had hoped that I could avoid it, like maybe forever. But I reach into my pocket and pull out a folded envelope. I had thought about destroying this letter. I wanted to destroy it. But it isn't mine to destroy. Not mine to decide. "Brian, I want to give this to you." It's a little wrinkled now from being carried around and moved from pocket to pocket. I open Brian's clenched hand and place it on his palm.
He takes it, hesitantly. "What the fuck is this?"
"It's... a letter. It's for you. Jimmy gave it to me the morning we... we went over to Ron's. Jimmy told me not to show it to you. And I didn't. I was afraid to. But I think you need to see it, Brian. I think this is the time."
He stares at the envelope for a long time before he slowly rips it open. The folded sheets of paper fall into his lap. Brian inhales, like he recognizes the paper. Maybe it was the paper that Ron often used for notes or letters. He picks the sheets up and unfolds them, scanning the writing. "I don't think I want to read this," he says, looking away again.
"But I think you should," I reply. "Ron... he wanted you to hear what he had to say. It's important that you hear it. To know what he was feeling at the end. What he was thinking. Maybe I'm wrong, but I know you're not a child, Brian. When I was in the hospital and then right after I got out, the one thing I hated most was when people treated me like a fucking infant who was unable to cope with my own life. And I don't want to do that to you. Because you're a man and you're strong, even if you don't believe that right now. But I believe you ARE strong. You've been through so much crap in your life, but you've survived. You've only gotten stronger by what you've had to put up with. You know what that song says, Brian? 'Everything is good for you, if it doesn't kill you'!"
"Thanks for the music lesson, Sunshine, " he snarks.
But baiting me doesn't work. I know Brian too well for that. "That's why I'm giving you this letter. You don't have to read it if you don't want to, but that has to be your decision. Just like whatever you do next -- whether you decide to go on with your life or to let yourself fall -- that has to be your choice, too. I can't -- and I won't -- force you or guilt you into doing anything. But I have faith that you can make the right decision."
Brian just stares out at the water. Then he sighs and looks down at the sheets of paper. He sits in the sand, reading the letter. Silently, intently, stopping every few lines to catch his breath. Trying to control his already raw emotions. Looking up at the sky. At the ocean. Anywhere but at me. But he continues to read.
When he finishes reading he refolds the letter and stuffs it back into the battered envelope. He is still looking out at the water, the sky, instead of looking at me. Then, finally, he turns his head. His eyes are so beautiful, but they are no longer veiled. I can see the grief in them. And I can see the vulnerability. "He... he didn't have to do it, Justin. He could have lived. Gone on with his life. He could have. So, why? Fucking WHY?"
"Because Ron made a choice, Brian. It was never about you. It was always about Ron and his obsessions. It was about his fantasy of Jack. This note proves that there was nothing you could have done, nothing you could have said, to save Ron. Because he's exactly where he wanted to be all along -- with Jack. And maybe... maybe he's happy there, wherever he is. Can you see that, Brian? Now you can let BOTH of them go -- Jack and Ron -- and get on with your own life. You can let that all go now. Just forget your fucking guilt for one second and look at reality. Ron may be dead, but you're alive, Brian. And we're here. Together."
He gazes down at the rumpled envelope. "I guess in the end Ron took a kind of control of his life. He took control by ending it. He made that decision on his own." He pauses. "But that's not the way I want to end up, Justin. I haven't come this fucking far to end up like that."
I hear this and feel like shouting for joy. But I don't. It's like I'm sitting with a wild creature who may bolt -- or turn on me -- at any time. Or who also might follow me home. "Can you see that I'm also exactly where I want to be, Brian? Like Ron is where he wanted to be for a long, long time -- with 'Jack.' And I'm here with you. Right where I want to be. Now you have to ask yourself the most important question -- where do YOU want to be, Brian? Where? Tell me the truth. And tell yourself the truth -- for once."
"Justin, I...." He shakes his head. He still doesn't want to look directly at me. Like it's too painful to look into my eyes.
But I'm not going to let him push me away. Not this time. I think about something from my English class at St. James Academy two years ago. Something that my English teacher, Mr. Horner, asked about 'The Great Gatsby.' What is 'yearning'? That emotion Gatsby felt for Daisy? That futile longing that fueled his tragedy. I was so young and cocky back then, thinking that I knew it all. That I knew all about love and sex and what it really meant. I was also deeply into dreaming about Brian, so when Horner called on me I answered immediately. "Yearning -- when you want something really badly -- so bad it hurts," I told the class. Yes, Horner replied, "It needs to hurt to be worthy of the word, otherwise it's just wanting."
I also think of Brian's words the first night he made love to me. That there's always a little pain every time you make love -- that's part of it. Always. I haven't stopped feeling that yearning, that hurt. And that little pain is still there, every time.
"Brian, do you know where you're headed? Really?"
He takes a deep breath. "Same as always -- no place special." And then he smiles, ever so slightly. And he looks right into my eyes
"But I can change that, Brian," I tell him. "WE can change that." I reach over and take Brian's hand. He doesn't pull away. That's a start. And that's all I ask -- that he doesn't pull away. Not now. Not ever.
The sun is beginning to set, flooding the sky with rose and yellow light. We watch the ocean catch the colors, like it's on fire. It feels like we are moving. Two boats. Two hearts. Moving against the relentless tide, but in one direction. The same direction.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly." But not into the past. Into the future. Our future. Together. Always.
©Gaedhal, November 2003.
Updated November 11, 2003.