THINGS HAVE CHANGED

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 3 of Chapter 108 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Nowhere Man 25 -- Confront", the final chapter of "Nowhere Man," or....

Go back to "Things Have Changed -- Part 2", the previous "Queer Theories" section.

The narrator is Brian Kinney, with Justin Taylor, Fiona Stewart, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian faces a vision of another life. England, October 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.

"I've been walking forty miles of bad road.
If the Bible is right, the world will explode.
I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can.
Some things are too hot to touch,
The human mind can only stand so much.
You can't win with a losing hand....

People are crazy and times are strange.
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range.
I used to care, but things have changed.

I hurt easy, I just don't show it.
You can hurt someone and not even know it.
The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity.
Gonna get low down, gonna fly high,
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie...

People are crazy and times are strange.
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range.
I used to care, but things have changed."

"Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan

***

"Fiona," I say. And I back away. "Get the fuck away from me!"

"Brian," she says.

I cover my ears. "Go away! JUSTIN!" I call, desperately. "Harry! Travers! DORIAN"

"Brian," she says. "I'm here to help you."

I stare at her. "I can't believe that Harry called you! I can't believe he had the fucking nerve! I thought he was my fucking friend!"

"Harry didn't call her, Brian," says a voice behind me. "I did."

I turn around. Justin is standing in the doorway of the drawing room.

"You little asshole!" I yell at him. I move to get out of that room, to get away, but he blocks my way. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Trying to help you, Brian," he says, quietly. "The way you helped me after the bashing. When I couldn't face anyone because of what happened to me. You were the only one who could make me feel safe. The only one I trusted. Just like I'm the only one YOU trust. Admit it."

"But there's nothing WRONG with ME, Justin! Nothing! I fucking keep telling you that!" Now he's got me shaking! The little asshole! Fucking SHAKING! The little fucking....

Justin comes to me and puts his arms around my waist, trying to calm me. "Brian, sit down here." And before I know what's happening I'm being guided to the sofa. "Harry and Dorian went out for the evening. I asked them to go. And Travers and Mrs. Jones are away, too. It's just us."

I can only look down at the floor, holding my head. It feels like it's breaking open. "Justin, please don't do this."

"I have to, Brian. It's the only way to make you SEE."

"Justin, these visions... this Fiona... it's all bullshit! It's... a lie!" I glance up at him. And then at Fiona. Her face is impassive, but his is stricken. Sick with worry. With fear. Yes! That's what I've done to him! How I've hurt him, again and again! The second I saw him out in the stables -- I never should have stayed here. Never! I should have fucking RUN the other way! Never let him see me like this, let alone try to 'fix' me. Because it's impossible. But he won't stop trying.

I just should have... ended everything a long time ago. It should have ended in that alley. Just stopped. That's what should have happened. Would have been the best thing for everyone concerned. For Justin. And I don't need to know anything else. I don't need Fiona's stupid visions. "Fiona is a fake, Justin," I say, looking away. "It's all a lie."

"Then how did she know, Brian? About you coming to see me every night when I was in the hospital? Or about my mother knowing about it but not wanting me to know? Or about her telling you to stay away from me?"

"I don't know. A lucky guess?"

"And how did Fiona know about that other guy... the one I saw in my vision?" he says, softly. "And then at the Art Festival? It WAS him! I know it was, Brian. The musician from the Alternate Stream!"

"There IS no 'Alternate Stream,' Justin! I told you that it's all bullshit!" I answer, futilely. "She just described someone -- anyone -- and you saw some guy who sort of fit and imagined that it was him! That's ALL it is!"

"No, Brian," he says, sitting down next to me and trying to take my hand. But I pull it away. I don't want him to touch me. I don't want anyone to touch me! Yes, it all fits. I betrayed Ron and then Justin betrays me. It's a kind of rough justice. It's what I deserve, after all. "This was meant to be, Brian. You have to KNOW that!"

"Now you sound like Ron with his 'Fate' and all that shit! I fell for that once, Justin -- but never again! It's a lie! A damn lie!" And it is! I should never believe anyone! Never listen to anyone!

"No, Brian, it isn't a lie," Justin persists. "Not when I'm dreaming parts of YOU. Of your life. That dream about the alley, back in New York. When I dreamed I WAS you. That man who took me -- you -- into the alley and...."

"Shut the fuck UP!" I try to stand, but he has hold of my left arm. A tight hold. He pulls me back down. If my legs weren't so shaky I'd just run out! Get the fuck out of here!

"And there have been other dreams, too, Brian. Others I haven't told you about. Where I've seen your past so clearly. I know that wasn't the only time you've been... hurt. I know that. And I know that Ron... hurt you, too, sometimes."

"More bullshit. Ron never did anything to me!"

"Keep saying that, Brian. Keep saying it's not true. But I KNOW better. And I know that you believe in what Fiona showed me before. And in what I dreamed. You told me so, when we were driving around England. When we were at that pub in Cambridge. You said it was meant to be when you met me that night on Liberty Avenue -- the same night Gus was born. You said that I was there for you to pick up. And you told me that my dream about you was true, Brian. That what I dreamed about what happened to you in that alley in New York really DID happen. 'Now you're dreaming scenes from my life' -- that's what you told me. And THAT'S what I believe! Not your denials now. Not your denials when you're in pain!"

"I just said that to... to...." I stop. I should learn to keep my fucking big mouth shut! All the time!

"But I know what I KNOW, Brian. Whether you are in deep denial or not. You HAVE to admit the truth -- or you'll always be running away!" He takes my left hand and holds it tightly. "And that's why I asked Fiona to come tonight. Because I want her to show YOU what you need to know. Your Alternate Stream. You have to know for certain, or else... or else we can't go forward. You have to really believe that WE belong together! The two of us. Not you and Ron. Or you and anyone else. Not Michael, Dorian, Jimmy, or even Lindsay. Or whoever the fuck! Or you and someone whose name I don't even know! Someone from the Past. Or from the Future. You have to know that it's about you and ME, Brian. About Brian and Justin -- and no one else!"

"But... how can anyone know that?" I whisper. "That they are meant to be with one specific person? Tomorrow you might... find someone else. Maybe that kid -- Wade -- or that musician. You know where he hangs out now. You could still look him up, Justin."

"Brian, listen to me! I don't want anyone else -- and I never will. I love YOU! Believe me! WE were meant to be together, and you need to see that for yourself." Justin takes a deep breath. "Just do this. Please. For me. For yourself. If... you see something else. Someone else. And if you know in your heart that you and me isn't what was meant to be... then I'll leave." He pauses and looks at me, his face taut. "Tonight. I'll call Kenroy. Or I'll have Harry drive me to the train. I'll... I'll move out of the loft and... I'll never bother you again. Ever. Because it can't go on like THIS, Brian! It can't! I love you so much, but... I can't take it. Being afraid for you all the time. Watching you hurt yourself. Watching you destroy yourself...." And he chokes off a sob.

"I know. That's why it's impossible for us to be together, Justin. I'm impossible. You should get out while you can. Now." And I mean it. Better to leave than to see me kill myself, inch by inch.

He blinks, but his voice is unwavering. "Then... do this one last thing before I... I go away. That's all I ask. I won't ever ask for anything else from you. This is it," he says, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his blue shirt. The blue matches his eyes, perfectly.

"All right," I say. My own voice sounds hollow. "This one thing. And then you can... leave. You can be free of me. Finally."

Justin takes a ragged breath. "Fiona?" he says. "Can I stay here? Right here?"

"Certainly," she says, setting down a large candle on the coffee table in front of me. And then she looks into my eyes. Her eyes are blue, too. But not like the sky. Not like Justin's. But pale and transparent, like water. Like a stream....

She lights the candle. "Time is like a river with many forks, many streams. Do you believe that, Brian?"

No, I think. "Yes," I say. Why not? Get this over with. End it, once and for all.

"Gaze into the candle, Brian. Be drawn into the flame. Fire is the element of knowledge. That first gift to mankind from the Gods. It will take us back into ourselves. But also be aware of the other elements -- the steams of water and the currents of air and the earth that grounds us here on this planet. But most of all, the fire. This fire. That cleanses. And burns."

So much bullshit. So many... lies. I know my life. I know my own Fate, so why fight it? To make one mistake after another. To fuck up constantly. To be alone. Until that final fuck up....

But Fiona's voice is soothing. Hypnotizing. "Brian, your choice is much like Justin's. Exactly like his, in fact. Like him, you want to know what your life would have been if it hadn't taken this path that you are on. Your Current Stream. The path you feel was the wrong one in your life, the wrong choice. How you left behind your great love and lost your one chance to be happy. That IS what you have always thought, isn't it, Brian? That is what you tried to recapture in this last, disastrous year, to no avail. That is your secret fear and your secret wish," Fiona says.

"I... don't know." I don't want to face this -- or even think about it!

"Yes," she says. "You do know. To know what you want to know is my Gift. That is my Sight. And to show YOU." She puts her hands against my head, holding it steady, directing my eyes into the flame. "Brian, now shut your eyes. Look for the river. Look for the stream that is your own. Then follow it backwards to the point at which everything in your life went wrong. Look for that fork. That pathway. Do you see that moment of your choice?"

"No!" I say. "There's nothing!"

"Keep going, Brian. Look for the path."

And then... I see something. "I think... I don't know. I don't fucking know!"

"Be calm. Just look. Do you see it?"

Fuck me, but... I see something. "I..." I don't WANT to see it.

"You DO see it, Brian. The path of your life. See the point where you feel that your life went wrong. Now look for the OTHER path. Look back and find it. Take THAT stream instead of the one you are on now."

"I... I don't think...."

"Go deeper, Brian. Look and see."

And I'm in an apartment. I'm confused for a minute. And then I understand. It's Ron's apartment in New York. Just a small living room/kitchen. A bathroom. A tiny bedroom. The window is frosted over with ice. I'm putting my red shirt, my extra socks, a few odds and ends into a plastic bag from a book store. I'm getting out of there. I have to! I have to get away! Before Ron gets back from the university.

It's all too crummy. Ron going down and copping the dope. It's not right. He could get hurt. Killed. Stan is still around. Stan and his creepy friends. He'll find out where I am. He'll come and do something to Ron. To me. To both of us. So I have to leave. Now.

But... I don't want to go. It's warm in here. And I feel safe for the first time in a long, long time. I feel like somebody cares. That Ron cares. Somebody finally loves me. If I go... that's the end of everything. The end of feeling anything. Of trusting anyone. Of... loving anyone. The end.

I still have a half packet of dope left from the junk that Ron bought. If I take it, then I can do it. It will give me the courage to leave. To get my ass out of there! I snort what's left. But it's more than I thought. More than just a half. And it's strong, too. Cut with some milk of magnesia powder, but not a lot. I sit down on the sofa. I'm so tired. Very sleepy. And I nod out, feeling warm and dreamy.

"Jack! Wake up! This is my friend." It's Ron, but he's all fuzzy. My eyes can't focus right. And another guy. "He's an intern from that hospital I was telling you about. We're going to get you some help. Come on, Jack. I've got my cousin's car." I try to say -- I'm NOT Jack! I'm NOT! But the words won't come out right. Not yet. They half-drag, half-carry me along. Outside. It's cold. Ron wraps my leather jacket around me and they put me in the backseat.

I'm in a bed. It's too bright. My mouth is dry. My stomach hurts from vomiting so much. The withdrawal. It hurts too much to eat. To live. Go away! Leave me alone! Please, leave me alone!

"Eat something," says the nurse. "Try to keep it down."

"I can't," I say. I don't want to. Leave me alone. Just everyone -- go away!

"Sweetheart," says a voice. "Talk to me. Look at me." I open my eyes. This must be Lilith, Ron's mother. Her long black hair is pulled back in a French knot. Ron is hovering in the background, standing with a doctor and a nurse.

"We can't get him to eat," says the nurse. "He's dehydrated. I think he's afraid to eat because his stomach still aches. But he'll be all right. If he eats something."

Lilith leans over and puts her hand on my forehead. It feels cool and soft. "You'll eat something for me, won't you, sweetheart? A little soup? Toast? I'll make something nice for you. Not this hospital food. Real food. You're so thin."

"Sorry," I say. My head feels weak. Heavy.

"Would you like to come and live with us at my house, sweetheart?" says Lilith. Her voice is kind. "You'll have your own room. And go to school. And I'll make you something nice to eat. Whatever you like, Brian. That's a good boy. Good boy."

I'm going into a house. Two girls stare at me, curiously, giggling. A man with graying hair shakes my hand. Lilith shows me a room. My room. It's obviously Ron's old room. The posters of the Beatles and Bob Dylan are still tacked up on the walls. A radio on the little table next to the bed. A shelf with paperbacks. An old desk with a typewriter sitting on it.

"Here's your closet. I'll hang your shirt up right there," says Lilith, looking into my plastic bag. My pitiful luggage. "We'll go shopping next week and get you some nice new clothes. And when you feel a little better you can go to school. It's the same school Ron and Debra and Wendy all went to. I already talked to the principal, Brian. I'm taking care of everything, sweetheart. Don't worry about anything."

Wendy's room is right next door. We share a bathroom. She hangs her stockings and bras over the towel rack to dry them. She comes into my room and jumps on the bed, laughing at me. She lets me have her old CD player. Wendy takes classes at the university nearby. She's a freshman. Debra lives in an apartment with a friend. She's graduating from the university in June. She has a boyfriend who takes her out to dinner.

And Ron lives in his apartment in the city. He's teaching part time and reworking his thesis film. He gets an instructorship for next year so that he can take more time to finish it. He comes out on Friday afternoons to spend the weekend. Lilith hugs him and makes a big fuss. His father says hello and then goes back to reading the paper. And after Shabbat dinner Ron hustles me upstairs and pushes me back on the bed, smiling. He smoothes my hair with his hand. He unbuttons my jeans and I lean up to kiss him. When he goes back into town on Sunday night I go into my room and lie on the bed and cry, listening to some Beatles CDs that Ron bought for me, until I fall asleep. Waiting for next weekend.

"How do you feel, Brian?" The voice seems so far away. It's Fiona.

"I... don't know."

"Yes, you do," she says. "How do you feel?"

"Happy," I say. I hear Justin gulp down air next to me. His hand is squeezing mine firmly. "I feel happy. For the first time in my life. People care about me. No one is... hitting me. No one is... blaming me for all their failures." This is the way it MIGHT have been. The way it should have been. Ron was right. He was right all along.

"That's not all, Brian," Fiona says. "That's only the beginning."

"I don't want to see anymore," I say, in despair. "It's pointless to think about something that didn't happen. Fucking pointless."

"No, Brian. That isn't all. Follow the stream and see what might have been. Your better future -- the one you have so longed for, Brian. With your first love. This is how it plays out and you must follow it."

Lilith makes me a cake for my seventeenth birthday. I finish up the school year at that high school. Then I take some classes over the summer to catch up. I'm back in the Honors classes. Right back where I was in Pittsburgh. Except everything is different. So different.

I graduate from high school. I get offered a scholarship to a university in another city. But Ron says no. He has everything planned. Don't I trust him? Of course I do. I turn the scholarship down and move back into the apartment and go to NYU. Ron gets his degree. He gets a post-grad fellowship. Ron's documentary film gets an honorable mention at a film festival in the Midwest. He gets funding to make another one. He travels. He works on his films. Ron goes to England and gives seminars at a university outside of London. I go over there for a month in the summer after I graduate from college and before I start as a graduate student at Columbia. I love it there. I take the train into London. Ron rents a car and we drive to Brighton. I look across the English Channel, but I can't see France. "Maybe next year we'll go to Paris," Ron says. But there's never any time. Not much time at all.

Then we... get married. Yes, it's so clear. And so strange. There's a Rabbi performing the ceremony. Lots of guests, but I don't know most of them. Even Jack and Joanie are there. And my sister and her husband. I'm uncomfortable with the whole thing. But no one really asks me what I want. It just happens. Ron is on a high. His AIDS documentary gets an Oscar nomination. We go out to Hollywood to attend the awards show. We meet Jimmy Hardy, the movie star, and his wife. His production company is distributing Ron's film. But Ron loses the Best Documentary award and gets into an argument with some guy at a party afterwards. Jimmy Hardy and I pull them apart.

We move around. First to Philadelphia. Ron is a visiting professor of Film there. I finish my Ph.D in English. My dissertation is on Post-War Gay Literature. I get a part time job teaching at the same university. I like teaching. I like the city. And then Ron wants to move. He's got another offer -- a better offer -- in Boston. So we go there. And everything starts to go wrong.

"What, Brian? What went wrong?" asks Fiona.

"I... I don't know. Ron started to get... weird. Jealous in a way he wasn't before. Suspicious of me. And of everything I did. But I never did anything!" I say, as if remembering. But how can I remember it if it never happened? It didn't!

"Why, Brian? Why is Ron acting that way?"

"Because...." I say. And then I see it. So clearly. I walk into his office, unexpectedly. He has a big window that looks out on the quad and the afternoon sun is shining in. And his graduate student is sucking him off. And I know immediately that it isn't the first time it's happened. And that this guy isn't the first guy, either. That Ron is suspicious of me because of what HE is doing. And I run out. I have to get the fuck out! I call Lilith and tell her everything. I tell her that I want to leave. I ask to borrow some money. I don't have anything of my own. It's all Ron's. It's Ron's life -- and I'm just a supporting player. A meaningless cog in his machine.

But Lilith tells me to stay. "Give it another chance! Don't throw away your whole life, Brian. Your family. The only family you have. The only family you know. Everyone is entitled to a mistake. After all Ron has done for you!"

And that's always it. What I owe Ron. What he's done. How he made me from nothing. Took me off the streets. Saved me. "Who else gave a damn, Brian?" he says. "Not your parents! They didn't give a fuck! They sold you out like everyone else. I'm the only one you can trust. The only one you need. So don't forget it!"

I hear that lecture more times than I can count. So much that I believe it. Really believe it. And I can't leave my family. Lilith and Max and Wendy and Debra. And now their husbands and kids, too. They're my family. But especially Lilith. The only mother who ever really cared about me! If I leave Ron, then I lose all of them. I lose everything. And so I stay.

We leave Boston for a university in Indiana. It's in the middle of nowhere. I feel like a fag freak there. People look at me like I'm from outer space. Plus, I'm a spousal hire in my department. The university wanted Ron so badly for their Film and Media Studies Department that they forced the English Department to take me, too. Which means that I'm nothing. Less than nothing, really. It's a joke. But I do my job. Teach my courses. Mainly survey courses no one else wants to teach. Sitting in an office no one else would tolerate.

And I do everything I always do. Play the part I've always played. The role that Ron has prepared me for since I was sixteen. Picking up after Ron. Cleaning. Answering the phone. Shopping. I know all the other 'wives' in the neighborhood and they are always trying to 'help' me. I know they laugh at me behind my back. Most of them have never seen a real queer before.

And then....

"What, Brian?" asks Fiona.

"It happens again," I say. I feel Justin's hand. I squeeze his hand tighter this time. "Ron and his Research Assistant. Again. He doesn't give a fuck! He doesn't take me seriously. Or else...." I stop.

"Or else?"

"He's fucking sick of me! Twelve years is a long time to be with one person, I guess. And this new guy, Lowell... he's only nineteen. And I'm ten years older. Too old," I breathe.

"That's not too old, Brian," I hear Fiona say. "You're still a young, young man."

"Maybe to you. But... I don't know! What can I say? Ron doesn't want me! Nobody would want me now! It's useless! Fucking useless!"

I see myself leaving. Driving a long time. To my parents. The house in the Pitts. My old man. He's dying and I'm supposed to take him to the doctor. All I can think about is how my life is unraveling. That everything that could go wrong HAS gone wrong. And I'm fucked! I have no options. No choices. Nothing!

I go to see my friend, Ben Bruckner. He's a professor, too, but he's a successful one and I'm a fucking failure! I can't finish my book. I can't get a job on my own. And now I'm trapped in a relationship that is strangling me, inch by inch. Ben tells me to leave Ron. Practically orders me to leave Ron. I can move in with Ben! He'll find me a job. Lend me money. Sure! That's all I need. Another domineering guy telling me what to do.

My old man is dying and his doctor is putting the make on me! That's the fucking story of my life! It's a comedy of errors.

I can't stay in my motel room another minute longer or I'll go stir crazy! So, I go to....

"Where, Brian?"

"Liberty Avenue," I answer. I see the street, but it's alien to me. I'm a stranger there.

"What's that?" says Fiona.

"A place in Pittsburgh. Where queers hang out. With bars and clubs and...."

I go into a diner. And there's Deb. But she doesn't know me. And then I realize who she is. "Mrs. Novotny?" I say. And she embraces me. She hasn't seen me since I was sixteen years old. But she's happy to see me. Delighted, even. She doesn't think I'm an asshole or a creep or a failure. She hugs me again. And then she brings out Michael.

I hear Justin gasp. "Oh my God," he says. And I realize that he is seeing everything that I'm seeing. Feeling everything I'm feeling. He's in this Stream with me. We are together.

We both see Michael and he's changed. No, not changed. He is what he is here. Different. Tougher. Harder. He's working as a dishwasher at the diner at night and as a part time mechanic during the day. He looks at me like I just arrived from the Moon. Or from his fantasies. He clings to me. He thinks I've come back to be with him. But he scares me. The intensity of his longing and his need. And I also feel guilty. It's because of me that he dropped out of school. I wasn't there to help him. To look out for him. So Michael was alone and now he's damaged.

And Debbie -- she's damaged, too. And Vic is dead. She lost her house. She's working herself into exhaustion. Her bright red wig is in place, but her face is deeply lined. She looks like a person who is only barely hanging on.

And then there's Babylon. Michael takes me there. I've never seen anything like it and it terrifies me! The flashing lights and pulsating music. The strong scent of sweat and cigarettes mixed with the sickeningly sweet aroma of marijuana. Michael's friends, Ted and Emmett, are there. Ted seems pretty sane, but Emmett has a desperate edge to him. He and Michael met through their lawyer when they were both up on drug charges. Emmett has been through rehab. He looks at me strangely. He sees someone naive. Someone who hasn't been with anyone other than my partner in years and years. Someone badly dressed and fucking clueless! Someone who needs corrupting. Now.

Emmett drags me into the bathroom. He takes hold of my dick. Shows it to a bunch of guys getting high in there. Someone laughs. Then Emmett throws me onto the dance floor. I spin in confusion. Someone pulls me and I end up in the backroom. I'm fucking reeling! I don't know what's happening to me, but it's like a fucking nightmare! The noise. The smell. Guys grabbing at my dick. Sucking it. Shoving poppers at me. Some guy trying to fuck me right there. It's like I'm in Hell and can't get away!

All I want to do is run. Run away. Back to where I belong. Where I'm safe. Back to Ron!

"I have to go!" I say out loud. "I have to get the fuck out of there! Out of that life! It's going to destroy me. It's killing me. Inch by inch."

"Brian!" Justin is whispering in my ear.

"No," says Fiona. "Don't stop him."

I rush out of there. Leaving Michael behind. Emmett and Ted. I'm never going back there again! Ever. I'm going home! I'm....

I feel Justin clutch my arm. Hard. He's holding his breath....

Because he's standing there. Under the streetlight outside of Babylon.

Continue on to "Things Have Changed -- Part 4", the next section.

©Gaedhal, February 2003.

Updated February 20, 2003.