This is Page 2 of Chapter 68 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to Page 1 of "Counting the Steps to the Door of Your Heart".
I park my mom's car in the lot closest to the theater. Exams are still going on and a lot of other end-of-the-year events, too, so the campus is buzzing this evening.
There seems to be a decent turnout for the Video Festival. I'm a little surprised. It's nothing official. Just something that some students and professors in the Art Department and the Film School put together to showcase their Multi-Media and Video Production classes. The winners will get gift certificates for one of the local movie chains. I think they're hoping that if this year's festival is a success, PIFA will make it a regular event and spring for some cash prizes for the winners. Not that I give a shit. My video isn't in the running for an award because I had outside help and used non-PIFA equipment. But I really don't give a damn because those things made my video better and that's all that really matters -- the finished product.
As I'm walking across the parking lot I feel my cell vibrate. I pull it out and check the incoming number. Dylan. This is his second call today. He usually calls and leaves a message at least three times a day. The first call is usually in the morning or early afternoon. He's all upbeat and friendly. "Hi, Just. Seeing how you're doing. I miss you. I love you. We belong together. Call me back." That kind of thing.
But later in the day it's a different sort of call. "What's the matter, Just? Blowing me off again? What the fuck is your problem? I don't know why the fuck I bother with you! You're nothing but a fucking little cocktease! I'm not good enough to call back -- is that it? Well, fuck you!"
Sometimes he leaves one more message late at night. He's usually drunk and it sounds like he's calling from a bar or Babylon. "Can I come over, Just? Please? I thought you loved me! I guess I was wrong. Why, Just? Why not me? What is it with that fucking Kinney? He doesn't deserve you! He doesn't. He's a fucking asshole! Will you come and pick me up? I don't have any way of getting back to campus. I know it's late. Just? Are you there? Pick up and answer me. Won't you?"
But I never pick up. And I won't. Ever again.
I never want to see Dylan Burke, or talk to Dylan Burke -- even on the phone -- again as long as I live.
Thinking about what he did to me makes me sick to my stomach. Thinking about how I went back to him again and again. How I went to the backroom and tried to drown myself in sex... Tried to fuck myself into oblivion. So I wouldn't feel any pain. So I wouldn't feel anything at all. It didn't work. It only made me feel worse. Made me feel like I was losing my fucking mind. And now I'm trying to move on. Trying to get away from hurting myself. Trying not to wallow in my own fucking misery. It's hard. Harder than I ever imagined.
Maybe once Brian is really gone -- once he leaves Pittsburgh for good -- it'll be easier. Then I can find a job and make new friends. Keep away from Liberty Avenue and all the memories there. Avoid Michael and Deb. And Vic and Tim. And even Em. They're all too connected to Brian. All part of a past I need to forget.
Brian has moved on. That's obvious.
If Brian can do it, then so can I.
And I have to if I'm going to survive without totally breaking down.
I delete Dylan's message without listening to it. I need to stop listening to everyone else. Delete all messages. Wipe the slate clean.
The only thing that matters now is my work. My art. Finishing my degree and then getting out of Pittsburgh. Going somewhere new. It doesn't matter where. Anywhere I can afford. A place where I can get some mindless, part-time job that leaves me plenty of time to concentrate on my art. And I have my inheritance to supplement my income. I don't need a lot of stuff to keep me happy. I can be a semi-starving artist. I can do it on my own.
So that's what I'll do.
I see Professor Young from the Film School standing on the steps of the theater. He's Richard's advisor and when I was looking for a cameraman for my video project, Professor Young was the one who recommended him. He and Professor Minton, the head of the Multi-Media Arts Program, are the two professors who are sponsoring the Video Festival. They're also the judges of the competition.
"Justin!" Professor Young calls to me. "I wonder if you could give me a hand backstage?"
I hesitate. The last thing I want to do is get caught up in a lot of technical shit behind the scenes. "I only came to watch the videos," I tell him. "I don't even know if I can stay for the whole thing."
"I need someone I can trust," says Professor Young, ignoring my protests as he grabs my arm and pulls me inside. "I want you to stand in the wings and cue the guy upstairs in the booth to start the videos. It's hard for him to hear the intros up there." He drags me around the corner of the lobby to the corridor that leads backstage. "Do you have a cellphone?"
"Yes, but I...," I start to say, but he cuts me off.
"Good. You'll need to keep in touch with Barry upstairs. The number is at the top of the sheet. Here's the list of the videos with the new running order." He shoves a clipboard into my hands. "I had to change some of them around because a few of the winners complained about their placement."
I scan the list. My video is supposed to be in the final slot. That's the featured position. Professor Minton told me they were putting it last because Brian was the star -- and because, he confided, it was the best of all the student videos. "Better than the actual winners," he told me last week when he gave me my grade for the project. Which was an A+, of course. "But that's only between you and me."
My video is no longer the final one. It's now fourth from last. Three other videos -- the winners of the competition, I assume -- are after mine.
Whatever. It doesn't really matter. I didn't make my video to win a fucking prize.
No, I made it so Brian and I could be in a movie together. Not like in 'Hammersmith,' where I've only got a bit part. But something that shows the two of us as lovers. And we were. That's what my video shows.
And no one can ever take that away.
Standing backstage and cuing Barry in the booth gives me something to do, so I actually don't mind. Professor Young and Professor Minton introduce the entries while I tell Barry when to roll the tape. While the video plays, the profs move offstage and stand next to me in the wings, so I listen to them critique each one as I watch it. The two of them are kind of catty, but also very informative as they point out their strengths and weaknesses. I can see that my video is miles better than most of the entries, but especially better than the ones by the other students from the Art Department, which tend to be self-consciously arty and experimental, but lacking in any kind of narrative flow. I'm happy that my video tells a strong story that reflects the words and music. "Don't Dream It's Over." Yes, it's still a good piece of work.
"Yours is next," Professor Minton whispers to me. "You did a fine job, Justin."
"Thanks," I reply. I hit the button on my cellphone and give Barry the word to cue up my video. Even from this side angle I can see the opening crane shot of the lake and the town. It looks really great. And sounds great, too. Unlike the other videographers, we used a stereo mix to give it a fuller sound, so the music is resonant and the words crystal clear. There's Brian in bed in the hotel room. Then his naked body in the window shot. His ass looms on the large screen -- and it looks beautiful. I see his tattoo very clearly -- the heart and my own name. I knew it would be visible in the video -- Richard even mentioned it when we were editing that sequence -- but it looks so big on the full-sized screen. And my name is right there. Unquestionably. Indelibly. I touch the spot on my own ass where Brian's name is written. I don't care if it's all over. I'll never erase it or cover it up. I'm not sorry I did it. That's one thing I'll never regret.
The pan shot pushes out the window. The crane again. It feels like the camera is flying over the park next to Lake Chautauqua. Then I see myself, sitting in the grass. Jesus. My head looks about five feet wide. Oh, well. Now I know why Brian always cringes when he has to look at himself on film. On the screen I look up, as if I'm hearing the music. Hearing something calling to me. I stand up.
The cuts between Brian, in sunglasses, walking with his head down, and me, walking with my head up, smiling at the sun, look amazing. You can see that we are moving towards each other. To an inevitable meeting. It's Fate. We converge in the park. The close-up of our hands coming together, our fingers intertwining. Brian takes off his dark glasses and shows me his eyes. An extreme close-up of those eyes. They look green and deep. "Don't dream it's over!" goes the song as we embrace. The camera circles us. It looks like we're spinning in some erotic dance. "We know they won't win!" Then Brian lifts me up against his body and twirls me around, holding me tight. "Don't let them win!" And he kisses me as the camera pulls back, panning to the sky as the song fades away.
I can feel that fade inside of me. That empty space in my heart.
The video ends and there's a lot of applause. It IS good and I know it. Maybe I should take Ron's money and go to the NYU Film School and become a director. That would be the ultimate irony.
While I'm telling Barry to start the next video, Richard comes backstage. "You didn't tell me that Brian was going to be here," he says. "Did you guys make up?"
I gape at Richard. "What are you talking about? Brian isn't here."
"Yes, he is," Richard insists. "I just saw him, standing in the back of the auditorium." Richard pulls me over to the edge of the curtain and we peek around it. "Under the 'Exit' sign."
I can see the red sign, but not much else. Only shapes. "Is he still there?"
Richard squints. "It's too dark to tell. You mean you didn't know he was coming?"
"No, I didn't know!" I almost yell. "Here." I shove the clipboard and my cellphone into Richard's hands. "You cue the final videos. There are only two more." Then I slip around the curtain, down the stage steps, and up the side aisle.
But when I get to the back of the auditorium he's not there.
"Did you see a tall man standing here?" I ask two girls leaning against the wall.
One of the girls frowns. "In a black leather jacket?"
"Yes! Where did he go?"
"I don't know," the girl shrugs. "He left after the last video."
He's not in the lobby, so I go out on the front steps. It's dark outside now. I don't know which way he went. But he was here. I know he was. To see my video. Our video.
"Brian!" I call. "I know you're here! Don't fucking run away from me! Please!" I stop, but there's no reply. Nothing. "Don't come here and then hide from me! At least have the balls to talk to me! To tell me to my face that you really never want to see me again! What are you afraid of, Brian? It's only me. And only you. We're the only two who matter. I believe that. I really do." My voice fades away to a whisper. "I still believe. And I still love you."
I stand there, waiting. Some students walk by the theater, talking and laughing. I hear a siren in the distance. But nothing else.
It's too late. Too fucking late.
I go inside and head backstage. The last video is just finishing. Richard hands me my cellphone, but doesn't say a word. He only looks at me with pity. Yes, I'm fucking pathetic. But I don't give a damn.
Professor Young and Professor Minton call the winners to the stage and give out the gift certificates. I turn away. I only want to go home and forget this whole fucking thing.
Professor Young finishes handing out the prizes and the winners take their bows. There's a lot of applause. But then something happens. A murmur goes through the auditorium. I hear static as someone bumps the microphone.
Richard nudges me. "Hey, Justin! Look!"
I turn around. And I see Brian, standing in the middle of the stage. He's wearing a pair of faded jeans, a plain white shirt that's half untucked, and one of his Hugo Boss leather jackets. He hasn't shaved and his hair is long and a little disheveled. In other words, he looks fucking amazing!
Professor Young grins as he motions Brian to the microphone, inviting him to say a few words. Brian fidgets for a moment, but then he steps right up. He holds his head up high on his long, beautiful neck and addresses the audience in a resolute voice.
"My name is Brian Kinney." He pauses while they all clap and whistle. "And I want to congratulate everyone who worked on these videos. It's hard to make a film, even a very short one. I was in one of those videos. I'm sure you all saw it just now. And probably saw more of me than I expected." He smiles slightly as the audience laughs. "I only watched the video for the first time tonight and I want to thank everyone involved in making it. All of you did a great job as far as I can see. Of course, I'm no expert. I'm only an actor." He shrugs while they laugh and applaud. Brian has always had good timing. "But I especially want to thank the director of my video. To thank him for allowing me to be in it. And for making me look halfway decent on screen. That's not an easy job, believe me. I'm not an easy person to direct. Not an easy person to... to deal with under the best of circumstances, let alone at the worst of times." Brian stops and glances around, like he's looking for someone. Like he's looking for me. And I'm frozen in this spot. "But he's always been there. Even when other people turned their backs on me, Justin never did. Even when I was... was difficult -- and that was a lot -- he never lost faith in me. So I want him to know that I haven't lost faith in him. The video he made is... well, it's fucking beautiful -- sorry if I'm not allowed to say 'fucking' at a college event -- but it's the truth. And I'd say that even if he wasn't my partner. And even if I didn't... love him as much as I do." Brian clears his throat nervously. "We make a good team. That's what being partners is all about. And I guess that's all I have to say. Thanks."
Brian steps away from the microphone and nods to the professors and the winning students. They are all applauding. And the audience is applauding like crazy. Richard is applauding, too. And cheering. He slaps me on the back in delight.
Brian turns and looks directly at me, standing here in the wings.
I stare back at him, unable to speak. Unable to move.
Counting. One. Two. Three. Counting the seconds. Counting the steps we've both walked to this place. This moment. This door.
And then he walks off the stage and into my arms.
Continue on to "Better Be Home Soon".
©Gaedhal, March 2006.
Posted March 24, 2006.