This is Chapter 86 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Champagne Supernova", the previous chapter.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, featuring, Justin Taylor, Harry Collins, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian and Justin really begin their journey. August 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.
"Now I've got you, you little asshole." And he has hold of the back of my neck. Gripping with his fingers, digging into my thin flesh.
"Let me go! What did I do? I didn't do anything!"
"You didn't do what I say, THAT'S what you did." Stan's breath is hot and rank on my skin. I think seriously that he is capable of anything. Capable even of killing me.
"I can't! Don't make me! Please...." I can't remember what it is he wants me to do. I can't recall it. But the thought of it makes my ankles feel weak, my heart pound.
"What's the matter? Don't you like me anymore? Haven't I been good to you? So good...."
And he wheels me around. But it isn't Stan. It's Ron....
"What! What the fuck...?"
"Wake up. Please wake up, now." Justin is shaking me gently.
And I'm just shaking. "I'm all right! I'm really... all right." But I'm not. I'm just not.
"Brian," Justin says, concern in his voice. "That's the third morning in a row that you've had a nightmare and woke up in a sweat." I realize that Justin is holding me in the same way that I usually hold him in my arms when he has a nightmare. Fucking role reversal! "I mean, that's MY thing -- nightmares. That's not for you, Brian."
"I'm fine, Justin. It wasn't a nightmare. Just a not-so-nice dream." I should detach myself now. Brush myself off and pull myself together. But there's something so comfortable here. I don't move. I'm afraid to move.
"That's the same thing." He's looking at me intently. "Are you going to tell me what they are all about?"
"I don't remember."
"And I don't believe you." He sits up in bed. "But that's okay. You'll tell me when you're ready. Or when they get so bad that you HAVE to tell me. I KNOW. I'm the expert on nightmares."
He's right about that. But there's no way I'm telling him anything about these dreams. Especially not after Justin had that dream about Stan. I'm terrified of infecting him with my own demons. Of somehow introducing dreams of Ron into his head. That's something Justin does NOT need.
"You shouldn't be cooking, Justin! You're my guest!" says Harry, digging into the plate that Travers, the butler, has set down in front of him.
"But Mrs. Jones spent the whole afternoon teaching me to make sherry trifle. So I HAD to make dinner," says Justin. "I saw all those fresh vegetables and thought of Debbie's pasta primavera. Mrs. Jones didn't have any fettucine, so I used regular spaghetti. And there was no zucchini, so I improvised. Vic always says that the ability to improvise is the key to being a good cook."
"Why this is as good as anything I've ever had in a restaurant! And I mean that sincerely." Harry is eating the pasta with real gusto.
"Thanks!" Justin is beaming. And Harry is right. It IS as good as most things you get in a restaurant. "The secret is using this fresh cheese -- Mrs. Jones found it for me -- it's a little like Romano -- and then grating it on right at the table. Most people cook it into the cream sauce. But then it gets all gooey. Deb says this way is better."
"It's quite wonderful, Justin!" And that's high praise from Harry. His own cook is one of the best I've come across since we've been in England.
"You don't want to know how much butter is in that sauce, Harry -- believe me!" I mention.
"With the lad able to cook like this, Brian, it's a wonder you both aren't three hundred pounds!"
I put down my fork. "Jesus. THAT'S an image I can live without!"
"I love to cook," adds Justin. "But with my classes and my job at Michael's comic book store, I just don't have the time to do it every day."
Harry takes a sip of his wine. Justin described what we were having and Harry went down and selected a bottle out of his cellar. It's an Italian wine, very light. But I only take half a glass. That's all.
"I'm always amazed when someone has such a delightful skill," says Harry. "Where did you learn to do it?"
"From my mom. And from Debbie and Vic. I stayed with them during a time when I was 'on hiatus' from living with Brian." Justin makes a sly face at me and then turns to Harry. "But that's a long story. Anyway, this is Deb's grandmother's recipe. I have a good one for lasagna, too."
"Oh, I LOVE lasagna! You must write that out for Mrs. Jones before you leave."
"Sure. It's easy."
Justin is eating up Harry's praise. There it is -- another one of my failings. Even when something is really great, the most I can manage is 'It's not bad.' That's the ultimate accolade for me. Like the first time Justin cooked for me at my loft. Jambalaya. He made a huge fucking mess! And I made an even bigger mess by dragging home that trick from Atlanta! But the next day I actually sat down with him and ate the food. 'It's not bad.' That's what I said! And it was fucking incredible! Or I thought it was. The way Justin lit the candles and set the table... and I couldn't admit that I was impressed. Touched. My way of showing my gratitude -- of course -- was to clear the table and fuck him on it. After removing the leftovers first. I didn't want to make even more mess, after all!
Justin always says that he understands this and can 'translate' my Kinneyisms and non-admissions into regular English, but I still have to wonder why the fuck it's so hard for me to show my enthusiasm and my appreciation for things. Especially for things that Justin does. I mean, if his accomplishments aren't all bullshit -- which they are NOT -- and showing a little appreciation of them makes him happy, then why is it so hard for me to do it?
"This was an especially good batch of primavera, Justin," I offer. Now that wasn't too hard, was it? It didn't 'compromise' any of my fucking principles, did it?
"Really?" he says, his face lighting up. "You really thought it was good?"
"Really. Extra good." Really is right. What IS my problem, when it's so easy to make someone happy? So, why is it so fucking hard to actually DO it?
The trifle that Justin and Mrs. Jones made is the dessert. It's good, too. Everything the fucking kid does is great! So why is that so troubling to me? Why do I keep thinking that I must be letting him down, somehow? That he deserves so much more? Something much better than what I can do for him. Or try to do.
This is NOT the way to think. No wonder I'm having those dreams. Nightmares. Whatever the fuck they are. Something about me is still so wrong...."
"I said, more trifle, Brian?" Justin is passing me the glass bowl full of fruit and custard and cream and....
"No thanks. I've already had more than my share."
"Brian, you could eat that whole bowl and not worry. You are entirely too thin," says Harry. And HE takes another helping of trifle.
"That's quite all right, Harry. Really."
Harry and I had a long conversation this afternoon while Justin was cooking. I confided a lot of things to him. Maybe too many things. But I had to unload on someone. I feel funny telling things to Dorian because I know he has the hots for me. So Dorian isn't exactly an uninterested party. And something tells me not to tell Sir Ken too much. Even though I like him, something makes me uneasy about telling him things, especially about Ron. Maybe it's because Hughie is always lurking around and Hughie gives me an odd feeling... I don't know why.
I talked to Harry a lot about Justin. About whatever this is that's happening between us. "Is there a reason that you are allergic to the word 'relationship,' Brian?" he said, laying it on the line. "You aren't denying that you two are having one, are you? Because you would be the only one who cannot see it clearly."
I tried to make Harry understand that I don't believe that queers should define themselves by the straight world's ideas about 'love' and 'marriage' and all that hetero bullshit. Even when I find myself in the fucking MIDDLE of it all! Shit!
"So, why are these concepts that are only owned by some people -- and not others, Brian?"
"Hey, I didn't make the rules, Harry! I didn't tell fags that they can't love each other or get married or have families or be 'normal' -- it's the straight world that did that!"
"For someone so against all these concepts, Brian, you sound remarkably bitter at the thought that they are denied to you."
"But they AREN'T denied to you, Brian -- at least in your own heart. They are only forbidden as long as you forbid them to yourself."
I snorted at THAT one! "I don't see you and Gerry Milton marching down any aisles, Harry!" And I realized that I was raising my voice! My hands were shaking.
"But that doesn't make our partnership any less valid -- at least to me. To Gerry, too, if he would stop and consider it. That's why we've been together for seventeen years."
Harry voice is quiet -- but very firm. Harry is down to earth. He's a soothing influence. He gave me a few suggestions about certain things. About how to relate better to people... Okay, how to relate better to Justin! And I'm considering what he said. Considering it seriously.
And I gave him my take, too, on a few things. On Gerry, mainly. And Harry didn't mind. He has no illusions at all about Gerry -- not after seventeen years. But he says that he still loves him, no matter what. I can't fathom it. But I can't knock it, either, if that's his thing. Jesus -- seventeen years. Loving someone like Gerry Milton. Jesus.
Harry makes me feel at home, even when I'm arguing with him. He makes it feel safe to get things off my chest. And without all the people and the big whoo-ha connected with them, Harry's house isn't half bad, either. I could get comfortable here. Or in a place like this. Firelands is a big, drafty old dump, but it's cozy. It's full of expensive furniture and antiques, but you aren't afraid to sit down or touch anything the way you feel in so many houses in Los Angeles. Like they are just for show and not for really living in. Harry's place is all about being lived in. You can walk around on the carpets and not worry. Sit down and relax. The dogs jump up on the couch and no one has a fucking heart attack.
After dinner I spread my maps out on the coffee table and Harry and I go over various routes to drive to the Lake District, while Justin wrestles around on the floor with the dogs. England isn't very big, but sometimes the roads to the places you want to see are narrow and difficult to navigate. Plus, I'm going to have to drive on the left side of the road. That will be the biggest thing to get used to.
"If you go up to Bath, then you'll need to follow the M5 and then the M6 North to the Lakes. You don't have reservations anywhere?" asks Harry.
"Nope, the idea was to just go and not have a schedule -- except the one in my head."
"Well, you'll probably be able to find accommodations wherever you go -- but they might not be posh. Not the luxury suites of London, surely."
"Bed and Breakfast places? I think we'll survive." I have a pile of guidebooks, everything from 'The Rough Guide' and 'Frommer's' to 'Queer Britain.' I'm well prepared for all the possibilities. In one week Justin and I get on the plane and head back to the States. After that... Well, I'll cross that lovely bridge when I get to it. Deal with that 'deal.' But until then, I plan to make the most of things. To visit as many historical sites, view as much scenery, buy as many postcards and souvenirs, fuck in as many beautiful spots, and eat as many disgusting British foods as both of us can in one fucking week. Not like this is any kind of last chance or anything. Nothing like that....
On Monday morning Harry drives me and Justin up to right outside London where we can pick up the car I've ordered. We're leaving most of the suitcases at Firelands so we don't have to drag enough luggage for Cher and her entourage all around England. Then we'll swing by and pick up the rest of our gear before we drop off the car at the airport and catch the plane back to New York. And then Pittsburgh. And then....
"Is THIS the car I ordered?" The woman is showing me a nondescript Ford. "This is ridiculous! Didn't I order a high-end car? Something a little plush? Don't you have a Mercedes?"
"This is what we have available, sir," she snips at me. "It's August and the height of the season."
Goddamn it! I look at Justin. But he just cocks his head "I don't care, Brian. Do we really need a fancy car just to drive around in?"
"But it's NOT what I ordered!" I huff, realizing that I sound like a petulant bitch. But it ISN'T what I ordered. I want a decent fucking car! I have to drive for a week and this is ridiculous!
Then I look at Justin, serenely watching as I ream out the rental car woman. He's watching me having a meltdown over something so stupid! So I stop myself. "Oh, what the hell."
The woman gives me the keys. And I give her a fucking HUGE deposit for this piece of crap -- that is not what I ordered!
"Brian?" Justin asks as we load the suitcases into the trunk -- I mean, the boot. "Are you going to be in a bad mood now for the whole trip because this isn't the right car?" Justin knows me too well. I have to let it go now or he's right -- I WILL fucking ruin this trip for both of us.
"No, it doesn't matter," I say, trying to mean it. I look at his face, studying me.
"Good." He smiles. "I think the car is just fine, Brian. Unless you want to hire Kenroy to drive us around for a week in the Rolls."
I shake my head. "To afford that, I'd have to sell YOU first -- and that would rather be defeating the purpose."
"Oh," Justin says. "And what purpose is THAT, Brian?"
This fucking kid! "Christ, you do nothing but ask questions! On the plane, in the car! Nothing but questions. So shut up already and get IN!" He smiles at me slyly -- then at full power. The patented Sunshine smile. 'It doesn't work on ME!' I want to scream. But that would be a lie. Because Justin already knows the answer to that question. And a million others. He fucking HAS me right where he wants me! And I can't do a thing about it.
Justin piles into the car. He's got the maps and guidebooks and will be navigating. I hope. Because I'm going to be busy enough trying to remember if I'm driving on the right side. I mean the LEFT side. The correct side. Whatever the fuck.
I get on the M4 and head west towards Bath. I can't go too wrong on a big motorway. Everyone is going the same way and all I have to do is keep up and keep going. It's when I get off the thing that I've got to be careful.
There's no CD player in this heap, so I'm spared having my ears blown out by Justin's music. Not that I mind that much. I like loud music. When I'm in the mood. Justin dials around, looking for something other than gardening shows. Unfortunately, the Top Ten is heavy with those fucking made-up bands doing bad covers. Atomic Kitten, for fucksake! These groups are so processed they make The Backstreet Boys look like The Ramones! Even Justin can only stomach so much of THAT. He turns off the radio.
And then an interesting thing happens. We start talking. I mean, really talking. I'm not sure how it begins. But it happens. Justin starts talking about his mother's birthday coming up and that leads to me talking about MY mother. Honestly! Especially about what happened that time she came to my place and 'caught' me with Justin. Shit! It was my own home -- and I felt guilty about HER barging in. But I'm not sorry it happened. Not sorry I didn't out her priest. Not sorry for anything like that. Except... when she didn't show up at the dinner at Papagano's. THAT hurt. For the first time I admit that it really fucking hurt. Admit it to Justin.
"I'm sorry that she hurt you, Brian. I know how much it meant to you for her to come to your dinner," Justin says. And he knows. He helped me plan it. Helped me work out the details. So that it would be perfect. "Maybe if I hadn't been there that day when she showed up at the loft...."
"It isn't your fault, Justin. She needed to find out I was gay. I should have told her myself, like I told my old man. You aren't at fault for my wimping out on the truth. Why should YOU hide? You're the fucking brave one. You didn't try to hide. You never hide anything."
"Maybe it would be better if I did -- sometimes."
"No. It wouldn't be. Don't change, Justin. Don't ever fucking change! Don't go backwards -- not for any reason! Or for anyone."
He's quiet for a few minutes before he answers. "I couldn't change. Because that would mean I wouldn't be myself anymore. Maybe it would be easier. Safer. If I wasn't gay. Or if tried to hide it. Maybe I wouldn't have... been bashed..." he hesitates. "But then I wouldn't have met you. Love YOU. I wouldn't know my true self -- because you wouldn't have been there to show it to me. To help me know that I was an artist. That I was a queer...."
"You would have figured it out... eventually."
"But even so -- I wouldn't change it. Especially not after my... vision."
That makes me shudder. That makes me think. That there IS some kind of Fate involved. Some kind of Force moving us together... Shit! This is crazy. It MUST be crazy. And yet....
We drive along. Talking. Justin refers to the guidebooks and reads me little tidbits from them. As we get farther west, I have Justin open the big map on his lap, telling him to fold it to focus on the area between London and Bath.
"Look for this turn off -- here." I point to a smaller road, off the M4.
"What's that lead to, Brian?"
"A place I remember going to before. A very cool place," I say.
Justin keeps his eyes on the road and catches the road I'm looking for. I get off the motorway -- and fucking pray that I remember to stay on the correct side! I also pray that I don't have to deal with too many traffic circles or roundabouts. The things are awful enough under normal circumstances, but going the wrong way around they are a fucking nightmare!
But we take the smaller road south. Now we are really in the countryside. Justin keeps looking at me, trying to make sure that I know where I'm going. But he's got the guidebooks, the maps. He's directing me. I mean -- even if we do get lost, what difference does it make? We aren't going to drive off the island and into France by mistake!
We eventually come to a little village. Stone cottages. A few shops. The Red Lion pub. I pull the car up to a parking spot on the high street. "This is it."
"Where are we?"
"I've never heard of it, Brian. What's here?"
"Have you heard of Stonehenge?"
"Well, we don't have time to drive down to Stonehenge -- not on this trip. But this is good, too. Better, actually. You'll see."
We don't have to walk very far before Justin's eyes open up and he starts smiling. "My God!" He gets his camera out. Because Avebury is a cute little English village built inside an ancient stone circle. Huge boulders put up over two thousand years ago. Okay, maybe it isn't as impressive as Stonehenge, out on the middle of the open spaces of Salisbury Plain. But Stonehenge is also surging with tourists. And traffic. And you can't get near it because it's all fenced off. But the Avebury stone circle is right HERE. A huge ring of stones and earthworks. And an avenue of big stones leading off into the distance. And it's older than Stonehenge. Bigger. And with the sheep and cows grazing peacefully all around, it's like you are in the middle of something really ancient. You can wander all you want. Feel the texture of the rocks. Their shapes. Walk up and down, getting a feel for the sheer size of the thing.
I originally came here on one of the few field trips I took with the other students in my group. Usually I went my own way, but the group was going to see Stonehenge and taking the bus with them was the easiest way to get there. And I liked Stonehenge well enough. As much as any college student who knows nothing about ancient British history can appreciate something like that.
But then we came to Avebury. Almost as an afterthought. They arranged for us to eat lunch at the pub. And I really loved this place. How I could get right up to the rocks and touch them. How they stood so incongruously right in the middle of this village. How the line of stones kept going on, into the distance, until they disappeared. I didn't feel any kind of mystery or magic or whatever you want to call it at Stonehenge. It was a tourist attraction, plain and simple. But this was different. I felt some kind of connection. I was the only one who seemed to. Most of the other students in the group took one look and then went to the pub. But I walked around and around these huge stones until the minute the bus left.
"This is amazing, Brian! Did they just build the village right in the middle of it on purpose?"
"Seems like it. The village itself is hundreds of years old. I bought a little book on Avebury at a giftshop and read all about it. People tried to pull most of the stones down at various times. The Puritans thought they were evil and tried to burn them, like witches. But they are still here. Still standing. After over two thousand years. There's something to that, I think."
Justin is taking a lot of pictures. He keeps trying to pose me in front of the stones. "Don't keep taking photos of me! You KNOW what I look like! Take the scenery!"
But he laughs and keeps snapping. "I'm taking your picture whether you like it or not, Brian! I want some photos to remember our trip. So get used to it! Now -- smile!"
I grimace, but then Justin makes a goofy face that cracks me up -- and he takes another picture! "I'm going to get even with you for that!"
"Whatever it takes, Brian!"
We end up chasing each other around the rocks. He runs up on top of the ridge of earthworks that surrounds the village. With his blond hair grown down onto his neck and over his ears, he looks like an Anglo-Saxon prince surveying his domain.
"Don't fall and break your leg!" I call up to him. "Because I'm not carrying your ass all over England!"
"You should see the view from up here, Brian!"
So, of course, I have to scramble up, too. And look down at the green countryside. The sheep everywhere. The hedgerows. The village. Another village in the distance. And those big stones. While we are standing up there, Justin takes hold of my hand.
We climb down. It's getting late and we still have to drive to Bath and find a place to stay tonight. There are only a few other tourists around. It's peaceful. Quiet. People in the village are going about their business or maybe heading home for an early dinner.
Justin asks two other Americans, an older hetero couple, to take our picture in front of one of the big stones. He selects a huge, phallic-looking rock, of course. The man looks at us a little dubiously and I almost say 'fuck you' -- but the woman is friendly. She smiles at us. It's the Justin Effect, of course. It doesn't matter what age they are, eight or eighty-five -- the women look at him and want to be his mother.
The woman has her own complicated-looking camera and seems to know what she's doing. She takes Justin's camera and snaps a few pictures of the two of us together in front of the penis-shaped stone. Justin puts his arm around my waist and looks up at me. "Look at the camera," I say. "You can look at me any time."
Then she and Justin talk photography while the man and I wait around. I get out a cigarette -- only my second of the day, so what the hell? -- and then I offer him one. He takes it.
"Thanks. I needed that smoke," he says, watching Justin and the woman fool with one of the lens on her camera. "If my wife takes a picture of another goddamn rock, I'll scream. Or a sheep. Or a church!"
"I know what you mean. Driving?"
"Yup. Just came from Bath. Then it's on to London and the airplane. We've been on the road two long weeks. Yorkshire. The Lakes. All over Scotland. Edinburgh. The Highlands. Now we are headed home. Finally."
"We're just starting out. Bath is next. Then the Lakes. We've only got a week, but we've been in London for a while already."
"Yeah, traveling is great and everything, but I'll be glad to get back to Milwaukee. Where you two from?"
"Yeah, these trips are... I don't know. I miss my own comforts, I guess. My own bed. I'm getting old, probably. My wife thinks I'm a stick-in-the-mud."
"I know what you mean. I like everything just so. Justin thinks I'm a control freak. But I want everything to be right -- or what's the point? You know?"
"I hear you," he says. We watch Justin gesturing and the wife laughing, trying to decide what angle will be best for the next shot. Then he looks at me again. "Honeymoon?"
That startles me a bit. I glance back at the man. He's quietly smoking. Then I look at Justin, the wind blowing in his long blond hair. I think about everything that has happened. Everything still to come. Everything I've said to him that I needed to say. And the things that still need to be said.
"Yeah," I say. "Honeymoon."
Continue on to "Safe and Sound", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, September 2002
Picture of Gale Harold and Randy Harrison from "OUT."
Updated September 19, 2002