COMMENCEMENT

"A Queer As Folk USA Alternate Stream FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 4

The other sections in "The Angel Stream".

Pittsburgh, June 2005

"Justin?" called Jennifer. "Is that you?"

Justin jumped out of the Jeep and slammed the door behind him. "It's me, Mom. I only came to get some of my stuff. I figured that Dad would be at the store and it would be okay to come over."

Jennifer was so happy to see Justin that she ran out the door to embrace him. It had only been a few days since that nasty scene at his graduation, but to Jennifer it seemed like ages. She wanted to know how Justin was getting along. Whether he had enough money to live. If he was still upset by Craig's emotional outburst. And if he was, as she assumed, still staying with that Brian.

"Oh, honey!" Jennifer cried. "Please come home!"

"I can't," said Justin, releasing himself from her arms. "I know how Dad feels about me now. He wouldn't want me here."

Jennifer felt as if she was about to cry. "He'll come around. I know he will! He loves you, Justin. He was only a little... shocked. Give him some time to get used to... to the idea."

Justin shook his head. "Time to get used to the idea that his son is a fag? And in the meantime, I should sit at home and be a good little boy? I don't think so, Mom. I've done that already. But I'm 22 years old. I have my own life. And if Dad doesn't like it, then... that's too bad." Justin wanted to say, "Fuck him!" but he still felt uncomfortable swearing in front of his mother, even when the occasion deserved strong language.

"When he calms down -- and when you calm down, too -- you'll both come to an understanding," Jennifer predicted hopefully. "I know you will. Daddy loves you, honey. He's always been so proud of you! And you've always adored your father."

"He loved the boy who always did what he was told to do," Justin snorted. "The boy who hid his feelings and was afraid to let his parents know who he really was. That's the Justin he loved. But that's not me, Mom. He doesn't love the Justin who wants to be an artist. And he doesn't love the Justin who...." he took a deep breath. "Who sucks cock and loves it. The Justin who takes it up the ass and loves that, too! The Justin who lives with his lover and doesn't give a shit who knows it -- and that includes all of Dad's country club pals and golfing buddies!"

Jennifer winced. "Is this the kind of thing you've learned from that Brian? How to be crude... and hurtful?"

"You'll never understand, Mom," Justin sighed. "You have no clue what a relief it is not to have to hide. Not to be scared that someone was going to find out or guess my 'secret.' But I'm not scared now. And I'm happy. Brian makes me happy. So let's leave it at that."

"I want you to be happy, too, honey. And I'm happy for you," Jennifer replied, trying to sound like she actually meant it.

Justin walked around and opened the back of the Jeep. "I brought some boxes over to hold my stuff. Brian's friend Michael's mother gave them to me. She works at the diner on Liberty Avenue. I'm going to be working there part time. As a bus boy."

"A... bus boy?" Jennifer swallowed hard. This is what four years at Dartmouth and graduating with Honors had been reduced to? Working as a bus boy at some dive in a seedy gay neighborhood?

"It's only to get some experience," said Justin, carrying two cardboard boxes up to the front door. Jennifer opened it and they both went inside. "Brian said that with my looks I should be able to get a much better job as a waiter in a good restaurant, but that I need to learn the basics first to see if I like it. Brian's friend Lindsay also said that she might be able to get me a job in the gallery where she works, but they don't have any vacancies right now."

Justin took the boxes upstairs and set them down in his room. He glanced around. He'd lived in this room since he was eight years old. He remembered when the house was new and he'd been so excited. He remembered jumping up and down on the bed as a kid. And spending hours drawing and dreaming. A lone Little League trophy sat on his shelf next to his old school books. Little League -- that had been his one attempt at doing something really butch. What a disaster! But his team had been the champions of their league one year -- no thanks to Justin! -- so he had a tiny trophy to show his father. To make his father proud.

That was one thing he wouldn't be taking with him.

Actually, Justin couldn't think of anything he couldn't stand to leave behind. His things from Dartmouth were already in the loft. All he really needed were some odds and ends. Some clothes. Some CDs. A few of his art books and sketchpads. Everything else he could leave there. Everything else was part of his old life. His straight life. His life before Brian.

Jennifer watched her son from the door. He really was leaving. She always knew this day would come, when Justin would be a man and no longer need her, but she never thought it would be like this. She never thought he would leave them for... for what? That tall, arrogant-looking man? For a life on the margins of society? For minimum wage jobs? Jennifer shuddered. But there was no talking to Justin. No convincing him. She'd already tried that. And Craig? Add her husband into the mix and it was impossible!

Justin and Craig were certainly father and son. Jennifer had never seen it as clearly as she did now. Justin was a hard-headed boy. And Craig was a hard-headed man. Now that they had declared war, neither of them would give an inch. Especially not as long as that Brian was in the picture.

"Can I help you, honey?" Jennifer asked.

"No thanks, Mom," said Justin, closing the flaps on the bigger cardboard box. "Well, maybe you could carry the smaller box down to the Jeep?"

"Do you need more boxes?" Jennifer offered. "I think I might have some in the garage."

"No, this is all I'm taking." Justin hoisted the larger box. "This is all I need."

Jennifer picked up the smaller box and followed Justin down the stairs and out of house. He walked purposefully, his eyes directly ahead. He wasn't the least bit sentimental about leaving this house. Leaving home. Leaving this life. Or leaving her. Jennifer felt the tears beginning to well up. He was still her son, but she knew it would never be the same again.

Justin deposited the larger box in the back of the Jeep and then took Jennifer's box and set it next to the first. "That's it," he said, closing the back door.

"Did you borrow this car to get your stuff?" Jennifer asked. She knew that Brian drove a flashy sportscar. She had seen it when Brian had dropped off and picked up Justin the few times he'd stopped at home when he was in town from Dartmouth.

Justin smiled for the first time. "No, this is mine."

Jennifer blinked. "Yours? This car is yours?"

"It's a Jeep, Mom. Brian bought it for me," said Justin, matter of factly. "It's my graduation present."

Now Jennifer was really surprised. "He bought you this... this Jeep?"

"He knew I'd need to get around, so he got it for me." Justin touched the black metal of the door panel. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"Justin, this is so expensive!" Jennifer returned. "I don't think it's right that you should be taking such an expensive gift from... from Brian."

But Justin stopped smiling and narrowed his eyes at his mother. "Why not? He's my partner now. We live together. We're sharing our lives. Forever -- I hope. Eventually, I'll be able to pay my way and contribute equally, but I can't do that yet. But one day I know I will. I'll be able to pay Brian back for everything he's doing for me. But until then, he's helping me. It's the only way I can do what I want to do. But that's also why I need transportation. If I get a decent job anywhere, I'll need a car. Brian doesn't want me walking or waiting for buses late at night. Not with Stockwell's goons prowling the city, looking for gay men to arrest or beat up."

"But Justin!" Jennifer cried. "This car, and living at his place, and... and everything! It looks like... like...." Then she paused, seeing Justin's face change.

"Like what, Mom?" Justin flared. "Like Brian is buying me? Like I'm trading my ass for a new Jeep or a fancy place to live? That I'm a kept boy? A whore? If that's what you think, then...." But Justin bit his tongue.

"It's not what I think, honey, it's what other people might think!" Jennifer wailed. "And what your father will think!"

"Then fuck those other people and what they think!" Justin got into the Jeep and revved up the engine. It sounded smooth and powerful. He opened the window and leaned his arm on it. "And fuck Dad, too. If he thinks he raised a whore, then let him think that! Because I don't give a shit! If you want me, you know where I am. At the loft -- with my lover! Brian!"

Justin backed out of the driveway and gunned the engine, speeding down the street until he was out of Jennifer's sight. Out of Jennifer's reach. For good.

***

Pittsburgh, June 2005

Brian smelled it before he even got off the elevator.

Justin was cooking... something.

More like burning something.

He took a deep breath before he shoved the door open.

"Hey!" Justin called from the kitchen.

It looked to Brian as if every pot, pan, and skillet in the place -- most never used before -- was in the sink or on the counter

"What's going on here? A science experiment?" Brian asked, sniffing the smoky air.

"The smoke detector went off -- but I turned on the fans and it stopped," said Justin. "Eventually."

"Are you trying to burn me out?" Brian grimaced. But he put his arms around Justin, who smelled like food and some pungent spice. "Should I call my insurance agent and get more fire coverage?"

"Stop!" cried Justin, nudging his lover. "It was the first batch of rice I made. It kind of burned. But I made more and that's okay." Justin lifted a lid and stirred something that looked reddish brown. The steam rose and Brian had to admit that it did smell tempting. "See?"

"I knew giving you money to go to the Shop N Save was a mistake," said Brian, loosening his tie. His stomach was growling, but he was still dubious about Justin's cooking skills. "So, what's for dinner?"

"Jambalaya," said Justin proudly. "My mom taught me how to make it, but I haven't had a lot of practice."

"I can see that." Brian flicked a stray piece of rice from Justin's shoulder and another from his chin.

"I made salad, too." Justin opened the refrigerator and pulled out a large bowl. But the bowl was slippery and almost got away from Justin on the way to the counter. Both men reached for it, saving it from ruin. "Oops," said Justin. "Sorry."

"Your salad was almost garbage," Brian warned.

"I'm a little nervous," Justin admitted. "I wanted everything to be perfect."

"Relax," said Brian. "It's only me." He paused. "It's only us."

"This is the first time I've cooked here," said Justin. "We can't live on take-out Thai and pizza forever."

"Why not?" Brian replied. "I have for years."

"If your fridge is any indication, then you've actually been living on juice, bottled water, and poppers," Justin retorted. "And some protein powder. And also plastic containers of chocolate pudding. What's up with that?"

"Gus was here the other week," Brian explained. "He likes chocolate pudding."

"I see," Justin nodded. He smiled to himself. He liked that Brian was spending time with Gus, even if was only a few hours at a time. "Maybe he can come over and stay for the whole weekend?"

"Hold it!" said Brian, putting up his hand. "Let me get used to you first before you have a five year old moving in with us."

"He won't be five until September," Justin corrected.

"Four and a half, then. All the more reason that short visits are the best." Brian headed up to the bedroom. "I'm going to get changed. Anything you want me to do? Set the table? Put out my mother's good silver?"

"No," said Justin, ignoring Brian's snark. "I have everything under control."

Brian took a quick shower and changed into jeans and a tee shirt. It felt good to be home. It had been a bitch of a day at work. Gardner had been riding his ass lately -- and not in the way that Brian enjoyed. They had a lot of new clients coming in, many allied with Stockwell and his administration. That had been one of the paybacks of running the new mayor's campaign -- Stockwell's donors were steered to Vangard. They were practically printing money at the agency, but a lot of the clients made Brian cringe. Homophobic fat cats pushing idiotic products to equally idiotic consumers. And Brian had to smile and be Mr. Charm to all of them, even when what he really wanted to do was punch them out.

The devil's bargain. That's what he'd made. And now he had to live with it.

Brian stepped down from the bedroom. Justin had the table set with candles and flowers and had John Coltrane playing on the Bang & Olufsen system. At least the boy's taste in music was improving, thought Brian. I don't think I could digest my food if I had to listen to Moby all through dinner.

"What's the occasion?" Brian asked, pulling out his chair.

"I told you," said Justin, setting the serving dish piled with Jambalaya on the table. "My first attempt to cook in the loft."

"Not really," said Brian. "Remember? You heated up some left-over meatloaf from the diner the last weekend you were here."

"Heating up is not cooking," said Justin, passing Brian the bowl of salad. "Don't drop it."

"I wasn't planning to." Brian took some salad and then spooned a helping of Jambalaya onto his plate. It smelled all right. He tasted it tentatively, knowing that if it was terrible he'd have to avoid making a face. But it wasn't bad. "It's not bad," he said to Justin.

Justin's anxious face broke into a relieved grin. He'd already sampled the food and knew it was good, but Brian's standards were high. He ate in a lot of fancy restaurants and was fussy about what he put into his stomach.

"My mom says it's even better leftover, so I made plenty," said Justin, picking up his fork. "I used to help her cook all the time. I enjoyed it." Justin stopped, thinking about what a brat he'd been to Jennifer the day before when he went to retrieve his stuff from the Taylor house. "I was really a bitch to her yesterday."

"So you said," Brian opened a bottle of wine to go with the Jambalaya. Brian was no big wine expert, but it didn't look too bad. Some California rosé Justin had bought at the grocery store. He poured a glass for Justin and one for himself. "Mothers can do that to you. I have to get good and drunk after a visit with mine."

"But Mom and I have always gotten along," said Justin. "Unlike my dad, she always encouraged me to take art classes and creative things. I always felt she was on my side, until...."

"Until what?" Brian asked.

"Until she started siding with Dad. When I was at St. James." Justin set down his fork. "I think she was starting to suspect that... that I was gay. And she didn't want to believe it. I was getting harassed at school, but I wouldn't tell her why. But she knew. Deep down, she knew."

"I think they always know," Brian speculated. "Deb knew Mikey was a fag when he was in diapers -- or so she claims. Of course, she was the only one who knew that Michael's father was a...." But Brian stopped himself.

"Michael's father was what?" Justin asked eagerly. This sounded good!

"Never mind." Brian frowned. The last thing he needed was for Justin to broadcast to everyone he knew that Mikey's biological father was a famous drag queen. And Justin's mouth, as tasty as it was, tended to run faster than his brain could control it. "Maybe another time."

Justin sighed. Brian was always doing that. Starting to tell him something juicy and then cutting it off. Like he didn't quite trust Justin with certain secrets. At least not yet.

"You know P-FLAG?" asked Brian. "Debbie is active with the Pittsburgh group. Maybe you could suggest that your mother contact her and get some info about them. That is, if she's really serious about 'understanding' you and your lust for dick."

"I thought you hated all those gay groups, Brian?" Justin reminded him. "Like the Gay and Lesbian Center. You're always mocking them."

"It's not for my fucking mother -- it's for yours." Brian took a swig of the cheap wine, washing down the Jambalaya. "Seeing that she's not the only woman in town with a queer son might help her to see it's not the worst thing in the world. You might get her to wear one of those tee shirts Debbie has. You know, like 'Dick -- the Other White Meat'?"

"No fucking way!" Justin exclaimed. Then he laughed. He'd been so worried about Brian's reaction to his dinner. Brian could be grouchy, especially when he came home from work, and his sarcastic words often cut Justin to the quick. But everything was going well. That made Justin very happy.

Brian was surprised to find that he'd finished all of the Jambalaya. The shrimp was a bit tough and the rice was chewy, but it really wasn't at all bad. "I think I need a little more of the main course," he said, pointing to his empty plate.

Justin's eyes widened. Brian never had second helpings. He jumped up and brought the serving platter to Brian's side.

"Say when." Justin heaping a large spoonful onto Brian's plate. "Let me know when you've had enough."

But Brian grabbed him and pulled him into his lap. "There's no such thing as enough, twerp." Brian licked the corner of Justin's mouth, tasting the spices that he'd put into the Jambalaya.

"But won't you have to work out an extra hour on the Stairmaster if you eat too much?" Justin whispered.

"I'm going to work out for at least an hour -- but not on the Stairmaster," Brian drawled. "I'm going to work it off on your ass."

"Oh, yeah?" Justin breathed. "Fuck the food! Let's start right now!"

"I think we already have," said Brian, closing his eyes.

*FIN*

©Gaedhal, December 2005.

Posted June 10, 2006.