This is Part 1
The other sections in "The Angel Stream".
Pittsburgh, December 2004
Brian Kinney was tired.
He hated Christmas ordinarily and this year was even worse than usual.
Although he had finished his radiation treatments months ago, Brian was still feeling the effects of his illness. His ass still began to drag way too early in the evening when he should just be getting started at Woody's or Babylon. He didn't have the stamina he used to. Brian could no longer dance or stay up half the night and still make it to work in the morning looking fresh and perfect.
Because he no longer was perfect.
And Brian hated the smug look on Gardner Vance's face whenever he told Brian that he looked pale or asked him if he wanted to go home early. Fuck that! Gardner was only trying to retain the upper hand, even though Brian was a full partner at Vangard. Cancer had knocked Brian off course physically and mentally, but also professionally. And he was still trying to get back into the swing of things.
Brian found that he had much less patience with other people than he had before his illness, even with his friends. He found himself snapping at Michael for no reason and unable to stomach spending too much time with Emmett and Theodore. Even Lindsay had upbraided him for his bad attitude and told him that he better shape up or Gus would think his father was an old Scrooge -- and not only at Christmas.
And then there was sex. Frankly, it sucked. Brian had a new plastic ball to replace the one he'd lost, but it didn't feel the same as the real one. He also had a nasty scar just above his groin. Try explaining that to some trick who you didn't want to talk to anyway! Half the time he'd lose his erection as the guy kept asking and asking about it. Shit! That was the last thing he needed to boost his flagging self-confidence.
For a long time after his diagnosis and operation, Brian had been impotent, although he never said that word out loud. He knew that Michael suspected that he'd been having problems, but they never discussed it directly. Michael was too chickenshit to bring up something like that with Brian. Instead, Michael had tried to be subtle. That was a laugh!
Michael had come over to the loft one evening and suggested -- in his usual clumsy way -- that Brian see some Chinese herbalist who Ben frequented.
"Ben swears by him," Michael insisted. "His herbs help to balance Ben's meds and keep his viral load down."
"You realize that's utter horseshit, Michael," Brian had said, bleakly. His dick hadn't even stirred in weeks and he doubted that a pot of yak vomit tea was going to cure what ailed him.
"It was only a thought," shrugged Michael, giving up without a fight. And then he went home, leaving Brian alone in the loft to drink and brood.
Eventually, Brian's erection returned, but it just wasn't the same.
Brian had once taken pride in his sexual prowess and in the number of guys he could fuck in a night. But now he felt like he was going through the motions. He'd haul himself to Babylon, have a few drinks, and dance unenthusiastically. He'd look around and see guys much younger and much more energetic than he was. Yes, hot guys still gave Brian the eye. And he still saw hot guys he desired. Lots of very hot young guys.
But sometimes it simply wasn't worth the effort. Would he be able to get it up? Would the trick make some stupid comment or ask about his scar? Would the trick notice that one of his balls felt different than the other? Christ, thought Brian, staring into his Jack Daniels.
More often than not, Brian finished his drink and then went home alone.
Brian Kinney was 33, but he felt more like he was 100 years old.
Justin Taylor was happy to be home for Christmas, but part of him still wished he were somewhere else.
It wasn't that he missed Dartmouth so much. That wasn't the problem. In fact, he didn't miss Dartmouth at all. He was on the Dean's List and acing all of his class, but that was what his parents expected. Because Justin was the perfect son, after all. The perfect student. The perfect WASP country club boy.
Except that it was all a lie.
Justin wasn't perfect. He hated college and he hated his major. Every time he walked into one of his Business classes he got a stomach ache. During his freshman year he had spent more time in the Infirmary than he had in his dorm room. At least, that's what it had seemed like.
And now it was almost over. He was a senior. Two more terms and he'd be done.
But then what?
Justin shuddered. The thought of spending the rest of his life in some stuffy office, writing reports, meeting clients, and pretending that he didn't hate his life utterly and passionately, filled him with despair. And his stomach began to ache again.
"Why don't you talk to your parents about what you're feeling?" the school psychologist had suggested.
"I can't," said Justin for about the hundredth time. He went to the shrink at least once a week. He talked about his unhappiness. His fear. His parents' expectations. And....
"Are you going to tell them that you're gay, Justin?" the psychologist prodded gently.
"I can't!" Justin whispered. "They wouldn't understand."
"But you told me that you think your mother already knows," said the shrink. "Maybe she could be the one you finally confide in. And then she could help your father to understand."
"He'll never understand!" Justin almost yelled. "I've told you that! I can't tell him! I... I just can't."
Justin felt like the world's biggest coward. He'd once been so certain about what he wanted from life. He wanted to be an artist. He had talent and he dreamed of attending art school and making his living doing something he really loved.
But then those feelings began to overwhelm him. His desire for men. And that both frightened and excited him.
Justin had tried to work up enough courage to go down to the Gay and Lesbian Center on Liberty Avenue. Once he and his friend, Daphne, had walked by it. He stopped and looked at the building. Maybe if he went inside and picked up a brochure. Or talked to someone there. Someone who understood what he was going through. Someone who understood the feelings that he was having.
"Are you going in?" Daphne asked.
She knew. And Justin knew that she knew, but they had never talked about it. Sometimes Justin felt that everyone at school knew his supposed secret. That they all sensed that Justin Taylor was the class faggot. He had few male friends and always hung around with Daphne and a group of her girlfriends. He went shopping with them. Went to Art Club with them. Even stayed overnight at their houses. Yes, they all knew. But it was never spoken aloud.
Until Justin made the mistake of acting on his impulses one unfortunate day early in his senior year at St. James. He and a boy he had a crush on, Chris, were cleaning the equipment room and they ended up fooling around. Justin jerked Chris off and Chris seemed to really like it. That had been the turning point.
Maybe they could be friends, Justin thought. Not boyfriends, of course -- Chris had a girlfriend and was a straight football jock. But maybe Chris wouldn't mind having Justin hang around him a little. Maybe let Justin do things to him sexually. Nothing major, just allow Justin to jerk him off every once in a while. Justin didn't want much more than that.
But after the incident in the equipment room, Chris openly turned against Justin. He and his pals harassed Justin at school, knocking him down, tripping him on the stairs, and writing 'fag' on his locker. Justin was terrified to complain for fear that the headmaster of St. James' Academy would call his parents and tell them that their only son was a queer.
So Justin retreated into himself. He quit the Art Club and focused on studying and getting a good score on his SAT's. Only when he was alone in his room did he think about beautiful men. About touching them. Kissing them. Holding them. Making love to them. It was only a fantasy, but it was safe. Chris and his buddies eventually got tired of pestering him and Justin melted back into anonymity at school.
And Justin also gave up his dream of becoming an artist. Instead, he went to the college that his father selected, majored in the subject his father wanted him to major in, and lived the life that his father assumed was what Justin wanted.
In other words, a big, fat, fucking lie.
Justin Taylor had just turned 22, but he felt more like he was about 12 years old.
Most of Brian's Friday afternoon was taken up with the Vangard Christmas Party. Or Holiday Party. Or whatever the fuck they were calling it these days.
Brian tossed back another shot and watched his co-workers laughing, drinking eggnog, and exchanging presents. Even Gardner was smiling and pretending to have a good time. They'd had a great year, especially since their client, Jim Stockwell, had become mayor of Pittsburgh the year before. Stockwell's influence had brought them a lot of new business and Brian had benefitted greatly, even though he'd been hindered by his cancer treatments. And his reward was a big end-of-the-year bonus.
But the money didn't make him happy. In fact, it only made him depressed.
There had been a time when a large bonus would have been enough to make him tingle with an almost sexual delight, but that time was long past. He had plenty of money. He had plenty of designer clothes. He had a big screen plasma television and every gadget that caught his eye and a classic Corvette in which to tool around Pittsburgh, even though it was a bitch to drive in the snow.
And Brian's money and his generous insurance package had meant that he got the best medical care possible when he had been diagnosed. That is, once he decided that he wanted medical care. When the doctor gave him the news, Brian's first thought was suicide. He had dreamed about going to some exotic location, like Ibiza or Mykonos or Bali, and having one last, amazing sexual fling. And then ending it all right there.
Brian knew his drugs well enough to be able to discern exactly how much it would take to kill a man of his size. How many pills and how much booze. And there were other ways to off yourself, too. Ibiza and Mykonos and Bali were all islands and drowning was always a possibility. Just letting himself go in the water. Giving himself up quietly, gently.
Or else giving himself the biggest fucking orgasm of his life as he checked out at the same time! He'd tried that once before. It was his thirtieth birthday and Brian knew that his experiment with scarfing might well end with his death, but he had been willing to take that chance. He was still young and still beautiful. It would all be downhill from there anyway.
But fucking Mikey had interrupted him. Saved him from himself -- or so the little busybody liked to claim. Thanks for the favor, Michael, Brian thought. Thanks for letting me live so that I could get cancer. So that I could become what I never wanted to be -- a pathetic, ageing, and sick faggot trying to act 10 years younger and fooling no one.
Of course, Michael could never understand Brian's attitude. Michael was Mr. Happy Housewife. He'd broken up with David shortly after they moved to Portland. But when Michael came back to town he had met Ben and immediately entered into Domestic Homo Bliss with the professor. Brian never told Michael that Brian had fucked Ben a few years before at the White Party down in Miami. Michael would probably freak out if he knew that, so it remained a secret between him and Ben. At least Ben didn't treat Michael like his surrogate son, the way David had. He guessed that Mikey was happy. Or thought he was happy. What the fuck did it matter to Brian? Happiness was bullshit.
Brian left the Vangard Christmas Party early and went over to Lindsay and Mel's house, bringing expensive presents for everyone. He and Mel still didn't get along, but she seemed more tolerant of him since she'd had her own kid. He had presents for little Jenny, too, along with those for Gus. They weren't really great presents for a little baby -- how the fuck did Brian know what a little baby wanted? But the gifts would impress the girls. Some fancy blankets. A sterling silver spoon with Jenny Rebecca's name engraved on it. And a Madame Alexander doll.
For Gus, Brian thought he did a lot better. He got his son an exact replica of Brian's Corvette in miniature. The wheels turned and the doors opened and it was something that Brian would have loved as a kid. He got Gus a bunch of other things, too, but he knew that Gus would love the car the most.
Brian sat in the living room while Gus ripped the wrapping paper off his gifts and Lindsay and Mel oo-ed and ah-ed over Jenny's stuff and the baby crawled around on the floor. Brian winced as he looked at the little munchkin. Gus was already tall and good-looking for a four year old, with a charming grin and a wicked sense of humor. Everyone loved Gus and said that he'd be a heartbreaker, just like his old man.
But Jenny Rebecca was small and wizened, with wispy black hair and pinched little features. She was a cranky, fussy baby, always crying and whining. Lindsay had wanted Brian to father Mel's baby so that the two children would be true siblings, but Brian had balked. It was one thing to donate sperm to Lindz -- she was his friend and they had even had a fling of sorts in college. But Brian didn't like Melanie. Didn't like her attitude or her jealousy of his relationship with Lindsay. He didn't want to have a kid with Mel and it was only very reluctantly that he finally agreed to do it.
But then Mel changed her mind and asked Michael to be the father. Brian was surprised at how much that had pissed him off, especially since the girls didn't insist that Michael give up his parental rights, the way they had made him do with Gus. That really irked Brian.
Brian thought Michael was a good-looking guy. He wasn't Brian's type in any way, but some guys liked a short, eager bottom. And Brian also guessed that Melanie could be attractive in a hard dykey way. She might even be pretty if she smiled once in a while. But both Michael and Mel were short and dark and, frankly, their kid looked like a fucking gnome! Next to the beautiful Gus, Brian thought that poor little Jenny looked like something that even the dog would refuse to play with unless they tied a porkchop around her neck. But he would certainly never say that to Lindsay! She'd kick his ass out the door.
So they all sat and pretended that the baby was cute and they watched Gus play with his new car and Brian choked down some of their homemade eggnog and dry Christmas cookies. Finally, Brian stood up.
"I've got to be going," he announced, reaching for his coat and scarf.
"Brian, why don't you stay for dinner?" Lindsay suggested. "We're having pizza tonight and then roast beef tomorrow. You know you've welcome any time."
Brian gazed at Gus. He was getting so fucking big!
"No thanks, Lindz," Brian replied. "I've got plans for the evening."
"Can't you skip Babylon for one night?" she said sadly. "It's Christmas Eve."
"I know," said Brian. "All the more reason." He kissed her lightly. "Maybe I'll stop by tomorrow to see Gus' haul from Santa Claus."
"Santa!" Gus cried in delight. "I'm getting stuff!"
"Yeah," Brian smiled. "Lots of stuff! That'll make you happy, kid. Just like your old man."
Lindsay shook her head. She knew that Brian was far from happy, but she was at a loss what to do about it.
The cancer had devastated him. And Vic had died almost a year ago and that threw everyone. But Brian seemed to take it almost harder than he had his own father's death, even though he tried to hide his feelings from everyone. And Michael, although still Brian's friend, had his own life now, with a partner and a foster son and his own business. He didn't have the time or the desire to hang out with Brian at Woody's or dance the night away at Babylon anymore. It was as if everyone else was moving forward, while Brian was still clinging to the past. That worried Lindsay, but whenever she tried to talk to Brian about it, he shut down.
"Be good," she said to Brian. "And Merry Christmas."
"Yeah," he said, going out the door. "Whatever the fuck."
"Justin, is there something wrong?" asked Jennifer Taylor.
She had watched with growing concern as her son became more and more withdrawn every time she saw him.
Jennifer had been very worried about Justin during his first year at Dartmouth. She had never known Justin to be so unhappy, even though he tried to hide it. But when he came home that first Thanksgiving he was thin and drawn and snappish. He sat in his room and barely even communicated with her or Craig or Molly.
Daphne came over a few times over that break, but she didn't stay very long. She was happy at Carnegie Mellon. She loved her classes and even had a new boyfriend. But Justin didn't want to hear about what a wonderful time Daphne was having at college. He was miserable and hearing that other people were happy depressed him even more.
But slowly Justin seemed to be resigned to his fate. That first summer back home he had gotten a job in an insurance office, filing and running errands. He hated every second of it. He hated the people and he hated the atmosphere. So he was almost glad to get back to school in the fall.
Then the next summer he took a job as an intern in a law office. That was more interesting, but he still wasn't happy. He often sat at his desk and drew caricatures of his co-workers on legal pads when he was supposed to be looking up references for cases. Again, he was glad to go back to Dartmouth at the end of September.
Dartmouth had a few gay organizations and Justin went to a couple of meetings to see what it was like. But the kids were all out. Most of them had been out since high school and they couldn't understand Justin's own reluctance to declare himself as gay.
"What is this? The fucking Eighties?" one guy had said to him, like Justin was the most backward thing he'd ever seen. "Just tell your folks and forget it! What's the big deal?" Then the guy offered him a beer and asked him to go back to his dorm room for a casual fuck.
But Justin couldn't bring himself the admit that he was still a virgin. In fact, he was humiliated to admit it. And the last person in the world he wanted to do it with the first time was this jerk, with his pierced eyebrows and his superior attitude. So Justin stopped going to the meetings and fell back into his own quiet anonymity on campus, just as he had at St. James.
The summer after his junior year Justin couldn't face another office job, so he convinced his parents to send him to Europe on a student tour. They hit all of the major tourist spots -- London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Florence. And Justin spent as much time as he could in the museums, often blowing off other attractions so that he could go back to the National Gallery or the Prado and wander through the rooms filled with beautiful paintings, longing for his sketchpad, but knowing that this would never be his life. It was useless even to think about it.
In Florence an older man began talking to him in one of churches they were touring. He looked like he was in his forties, with gray streaks in his wavy black hair. He spoke perfect English and wore an Armani suit. He invited Justin to have a cappuccino with him and Justin accepted.
Justin knew that the man wanted to sleep with him. And Justin was dying to rid himself of his virginity. What better souvenir to take home from his trip to Europe? So what was he waiting for? The man was rich and well-dressed. He was charming. So what if he wasn't the man of Justin's dreams? So what if he wasn't the tall, beautiful man Justin could picture so well in his head that he could have drawn him perfectly?
In the end, Justin begged off. He had to go back to his group. The man gave Justin his cellphone number and urged him to call it.
"You could stay at my villa," the man told him. "I will show you so many things. I will make you happy."
But Justin knew that this man wouldn't make him happy. It was a nice fantasy, but it wasn't real. Justin didn't have the courage to leave his tour and run away with this older man. So he went home and then started his senior year at Dartmouth.
"Have you thought about what you're going to do this summer, honey? After graduation?" Jennifer asked as they wrapped presents together at the dining room table. It was Christmas Eve and Justin seemed listless and depressed, even more so than usual.
"No, I haven't thought about it," he said softly. "I don't want to think about it."
"What do you mean, darling?" Jennifer pressed.
"Just what I said!" Justin barked back at her. "I don't want to think about after graduation! I don't care what I do, so why do you ask me about it?"
"Justin, please talk to me about this," Jennifer begged. "I know that you're... you're not happy. Is there anything I can do?"
Justin snorted. "Now you care if I'm happy? Why, Mom? You never cared before. Not as long as I did what you and Dad wanted me to do. And I did it, Mom. But... but I can't do it much longer. I just can't!"
"Do what?" Jennifer said fearfully.
"Be your perfect little man, Mom," said Justin, his voice trembling. "Because I'm not your perfect little man! I'm... I'm...." He paused and gulped. "I'm gay, Mom."
Jennifer felt her heart sink. She'd known it deep inside, but she'd also hoped that she was wrong. And she ached for her son's unhappiness. For his pain. She had watched him give up his art and his dreams in order to please his father. But this... Craig would never accept it. Never.
"Honey, maybe you should see a therapist?" Jennifer suggested. "This might be a phase you're going through."
"It isn't a phase, Mom," Justin sighed. "And I've been seeing a psychologist at school almost since my first term there. She thinks I should have come out to you back then. That I should have told you that... that I'm gay right away. But I couldn't! And I also should tell you now that I have no intention of going into business with Dad or working at an office after I graduate."
"But, Justin, what will you do?" said Jennifer, in alarm.
"I'm thinking of going out to San Francisco," Justin announced. "Maybe I could get a job as a waiter there. Or in a store. But no one there will think I'm a freak, Mom. No one will care if I'm gay. Maybe I could even... even have a relationship with someone. Or at least try to. I can't do that here in Pittsburgh. Or at Dartmouth. Until then, I'm going to bide my time, Mom. And then I'm going to get out of here!"
"Oh, Justin!" Jennifer wailed.
Justin stood up. Suddenly the room felt too small. The whole house felt too small. "I have to get some air," he said.
"Justin! Where are you going?" Jennifer followed her son to the door as he grabbed his coat and the keys to her car.
"Out," he said shortly. "Don't wait up for me."
Continue on to "Christmas Eve -- Part 2".
©Gaedhal, December 2004.
Posted June 8, 2005.