DEBRIDING

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 2 of Chapter 96 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Debriding -- Part 1", the previous section.

POV: Emmett Honeycutt, featuring Justin Taylor, Melanie Marcus, Lindsay Peterson, Gus, Debbie Novotny, Vic Grassi, Tim Reilly, Michael Novotny, Ben Bruckner, Ted Schmidt, Cynthia, Others.
Summary: Emmett helps Justin deal with Gus' second birthday -- and an anniversary of his own. September 2002.

I'm having the most delicious dream. But it IS a strange one. I've dreamt that I was in the Miss American Pageant (Miss Mississippi, of course!). I've dreamed a couple of times that I was starring with Barbra in 'Funny Girl' on Broadway -- and Omar Sharif HAS nothing on Emmett Honeycutt as Nicky Arnstein, let me tell YOU! And after I gave that all flannel party for Michael last year I even dreamed that I was a lumberjack. But this one is a real pip.

I'm dreaming that I'm Brian Kinney.

It's quite an eye-opener. Forget the King of Babylon Contest -- that's a joke! Everyone knows who the REAL king is! And I FEEL like the king as I move among the beautiful, undulating men. I'm wearing all black, of course -- those leather pants and the vest Brian wore to the Tea Dance. Believe me, that outfit has made a number of appearances in my fantasies lately. And when I come in the door at Babylon, I know that I can have the pick of anyone there -- or I can reject every one of them. It makes no difference to me. It makes no dent in my legend. I can out-drink, out-drug, and out-fuck every guy in the place -- and they all know it. Now, THAT is power.

Of course, my eyes are completely focused on ONE person. One blond with the megawatt smile that goes right through me. I see him dancing with someone else. Fuck that! I don't have time to waste tonight. Besides, I'm BRIAN KINNEY GODDAMN IT! I invade the dance floor and pick him right up off his feet and throw him over my shoulder. Carry him right out the door. He actually enjoys the caveman bit. It's hot. I'm hot. He's hot. We're both steaming, boiling hot. The loft seems right outside the door of Babylon -- it IS a dream after all -- and contains nothing but a gigantic bed, surrounded by blue neon lights. I've always wanted to be a big, brutal top -- and Brian can be as brutal as they come -- at least in my fantasies -- so this MUST be some sort of wish-fulfillment dream. But I'm not questioning it. I'm just going to enjoy it.

Not that I can just lay back and let it happen. Brian is nothing if not busy. Legs thrashing. Hands groping. Mouth sucking. Cock -- well! Everything is moving. Everything is working overtime. In fact, this dream is wearing me out. I'm going to be exhausted when I wake up. But it should be a good kind of tired, if....

"Ugh. Brian. You're flattening me. I can't breathe," says a muffled voice. "Get OFF."

I have to shake myself. For a moment I'm completely confused. Because I'm definitely in the loft. And I'm definitely in the big bed. The neon lights are turned off, but there they are. And -- yes, I'm on top of a blond. The same one. Maybe I AM Brian and I just forgot for a minute!

The head lifts up and looks at me. "Emmett. Get off me, please."

"Oops. Sorry, Baby. I was trying to find the little boy's room and took a wrong turn." I don't want Justin to think that I was trying to hump him, after all. That's not being a very polite guest.

"It's on YOUR side, Em. Over there." He gestures from under the dark blue sheets.

"Okey-dokey." I roll out of bed and stumble into the bathroom. Now I remember who I really am and what I'm doing here. And I'm greatly relieved. Being Brian Kinney, even for a short while, is too big a responsibility for me. I'd rather be Emmett Honeycutt and pass on all that other grief!

It's still dark out, so I do my business and hop back into bed. Rubbing up against Sunshine has left my dick in a quandary. Up and down and up and down. I'm glad I'm only here for one night. It's too confusing. Between that late night phone call jerk-off, my little fantasy dream, and waking up with my whole body pressed tightly against Justin, I don't know what I can tell my poor dick to calm him down!

"Sorry I was hogging the bed, Baby," I whisper. "I'm used to sleeping alone all and I must just flip around like a fish out of water all night."

"That's okay, Em," Justin says, sitting up and yawning. "What time is it?" He peers at the little clock on his stand. "Jeez, it's only 4:30."

"That's a little too early to get up -- even for a country boy like me."

"It's funny how I love to sleep in," says Justin. "But when we were up on the island I used to wake up pretty early. I guess the sun and the sounds of the seagulls and the boats and everything just makes you want to get up." He yawns again. "Of course, any time Brian wakes up in the middle of the night it usually isn't just to take a piss or drink a glass of warm milk!"

"I can imagine, Baby."

"Emmett, if I roll over on YOU or anything, just give me a push or something. I guess I must have been dreaming that you were Brian when you bumped up against me."

"Well, that would be the logical thing to think. And I'm on his side, too."

"Sorry about that."

"Honey, I was the one that was all over YOU!" I turn over on my side to face him. "I guess I was dreaming, too. And I guess we both just have to make the best of things, huh? So don't fret about it. And when we get up, I'll make you a real Southern breakfast."

"Emmett, we don't have any food in the place. Unless you can make a Southern breakfast out of a couple bottles of beer and that stale bread?"

"No, Baby," I admit. "Not even my Great-Aunt Maddie couldn't do THAT -- and she was the best cook I've ever known!"

"Then let's just go back to sleep, okay? We'll worry about breakfast when we get up -- much later. And don't worry about rolling on me. I don't mind."

Justin turns on his side and we end up kind of squeezed together a bit. But that's all right. Because I get the impression that he needs somebody to press against. And I realize how much I've needed someone, too. And how long it's been since I've had anybody to do it with. I fall asleep again, feeling like we are two lost souls who can't get through the night alone. I don't have any more dreams.

***


I spend a lot of time during that first week over at the loft. In fact, I stay over almost every night, although I don't tell anyone that's what I'm doing. I don't want people to get the wrong impression. And they would. They surely would! And speaking of gossip -- word spreads quickly that Brian has flown the coop again. And the response is as expected.

"It's just like that prick to take off the minute that asshole out in L.A. crooks his finger at him!" Melanie stops by the loft to drop off some of Justin's shorts and tee shirts that ended up in Lindsay and Mel's laundry bag.

Justin is down in his studio working on his piece for that gallery show and I'm up in the kitchen trying to recreate my grandmother's favorite recipe. I promised Justin I would show him how to make it -- that is, if I can remember how to do it myself! We went out Monday and refilled that empty icebox, and, besides the staples, I bought all the fixings. Justin told me that he collected a few good recipes in England, so I had to rise to the occasion and offer him the Honeycutt Family specialty -- genuine Mississippi hushpuppies.

"Mel, I think you need to consider that Brian has a big movie coming out. TWO movies, in fact. It's not like he went out to Hollywood to be with Ron. Brian's got work to do," I say as I pour the oil in the frying pan. It really should be grease that you've saved in a tin can and put in the icebox, but Brian doesn't seem to save his fat drippings. Imagine that.

"And it can't wait until AFTER Gus' birthday? Do you know how upset Lindsay got when Brian called her and told her that he wasn't going to be at the party?"

"Unfortunately, I don't think that the movie studios took Gus' birthday into account when they were scheduling their release dates," I say, in all seriousness.

But Mel doesn't see it that way. "Go ahead, Emmett. Make excuses. I've already heard Justin try to explain it away. But he can't fool ME -- he's devastated. Just look at his face. HE ought to tell that jerk to 'fuck off' once and for all!"

"Which you know is NOT going to happen, Melanie," I say, measuring out the cornmeal for the hushpuppies. "And bad-mouthing Brian won't put you on Justin's good side. In fact, it will only make him feel worse. Believe me. I've been spending time with him. The boy is doing just FINE -- until some people start trying to cheer him up!"

"Sure! He's just fine!"

"It's true! We were in the diner yesterday morning having breakfast and Baby was in a pretty good mood. We were sitting with Michael and talking about the store. Then Deb came barreling over and started in about Brian leaving again and how horrible Justin must feel! You could feel the change come over Justin. It was like someone punched him in the gut. Michael was furious with her! But Deb just couldn't see it. Now you know that the last thing Debbie would do is to knowingly cause Justin any pain, but she HAD to get her two cents in about Brian! "

"Deb is right, Emmett! I'm sure Justin does feel horrible! He's merely hiding it."

I shake my head. "I've been with him every day, Melanie, and I tell you that he's doing quite well. Believe me!"

She simply snorts at me. "He's pretending!"

"For a moment there I thought it was going to be like the morning Justin decked Ted all over again! But Sunshine could never tell off Debbie -- why, she's like his own mother! So he just crumpled up like a broken paperdoll instead. No wonder that now Justin told me he doesn't feel like going to Gus' birthday party. Especially if everyone is going to gang up on him about Brian!"

"What do you mean, he doesn't want to go? He HAS to go!"

"And WHY does he have to go? Especially if Justin thinks that all he's going to hear is what a jerk Brian is, and what a poor, put-upon little thing he is? That's NOT what he needs right now, Miss Melanie. Take it from me." I pour in the buttermilk, but I can't remember how much, so I play it by ear.

"When I need your advice, Emmett, I'll ask for it."

"My advice is like springwater, Mel -- it's free and there's plenty of it. But it's also good for you. Believe me. If you want to alienate Justin, keep up the attacks on Brian. Because it won't change his mind. The boy KNOWS what he wants. And YOU aren't going to turn him around." I glance at her, sideways. "Besides, you and Lindsay have seen Justin's tattoo. You know what it means to him."

"So, you've seen the thing, too? Well, to me it means temporary insanity, that's what!"

"No, honey -- it means that Justin is seriously committed to that man. So you might as well leave it be!"

Melanie throws me a sour look. "Give Justin his underwear," she says, dropping the bag on the floor. "And tell him we expect him at Gus' party. No fucking excuses!" And she goes stomping out of the loft. I really admire Melanie's intelligence and strength, but every time she leaves a room I smell the distinct odor of sulfur, just like when the Wicked Witch of the West takes off in a whirl of fire and brimstone!

I play around with the batter, dropping spoonfuls into the hot oil and then fishing them out. They look about right, but it's the taste that's important. When I promised Justin that I'd give him a real Southern recipe I probably should have given him my Uncle Lang's method of making Brunswick Stew -- except I don't know where Justin would get the squirrel meat.

A little while later Baby comes up from the studio. I'm still working on the hushpuppies and we have a tasting session. "I think these, Em -- definitely," he says. "They taste like they have more onion in them."

"I think you're right." I make a few notes. "These ARE better."

"Where did THIS come from?" he asks, picking up the bag on the floor.

"Miss Melanie stopped by with your laundry. Mostly underwear, it seems."

"Oh, yeah. I left some with Lindsay up on the island. She said it would be no problem to do them with their stuff." Justin dumps the briefs and tees on the sofa and begins folding them.

"I don't see any of Brian's panties in that pile."

Justin rolls his eyes. "Brian? Underpants? Hello?"

"Well, the man MUST wear underwear! I've seen them on him at the gym!"

"Not when he's on vacation. He didn't shave, either. That drove Melanie crazy." He smiles to himself, thinking about it.

"Baby, not to change the subject, but are you ready for classes to begin?"

Justin carries his underwear up to the bedroom and puts them away in the drawer. Then he comes down and sits on one of the kitchen stools. He tastes another hushpuppy. "I guess I'm ready as I'll ever be, Em. I just know it's going to be a long, long semester. Maybe even a long year."

"But you have to think about how far you've come since a year ago. Back then you didn't even know if you could last out the first week of school."

"I know. My hand kept fucking up. It was terrible and I was so depressed." Justin dips one of the hushpuppies in a little salt and takes a bite. "Then Brian got me my computer and gave me a second chance. I would have dropped out for sure -- and then where would I be? Probably at Dartmouth studying Business. Or maybe nowhere."

"But you aren't, honey! You're starting your sophomore year at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Art. AND you're going to be in big art show!"

He smiles again. "I know. Funny how things happen. I'm grateful for the way everything turned out. But no one would ever give Brian any credit for it."

"It's YOU that did it, Baby." And that is simply the truth.

"Yes, but I couldn't have done it without HIM. That's what people like Mel and Ted don't realize. I don't think even Lindsay understands how close I was to quitting. Giving up my artwork. But Brian wouldn't let me. He told me that he didn't want to 'lose his investment'!"

"Brian does get right to the heart of the matter, doesn't he?" I have to laugh to think of Justin as one of Brian's long-term investments, like a blond IRA.

"But Brian always knows exactly what to say to motivate me," Justin replies. "All the sympathetic shit and moaning over 'Poor Justin' from my mom and Deb and -- well, from everyone -- that didn't help me at all. It just made me feel sorry for myself. But Brian being tough, Brian being logical, even Brian being a little hard-assed sometimes -- that's what I needed. That helped me more than all the petting and protecting me did. Brian treated me like a man and not like a fucking infant. He's never treated me like an infant -- even when I acted like an infant at times."

"I think you are doing just great, honey -- with or without Brian."

"Thanks, Em," he says, a little sadly.

But I'm still worried about the boy. Not so much worried about him being here without Brian, but about how he's going to survive all the 'good will' of his friends. That REALLY concerns me.

Justin spends Labor Day at his mom's house. I have no idea what she thinks of this situation -- I know Jennifer Taylor is not Brian's biggest fan, but I also thought they'd come to some kind of understanding recently. It makes me wonder what is truly going on there. What she thinks about their 'new' relationship. And what she thinks of Brian being away again -- and Justin being alone in the loft -- again.

The day after Labor Day Justin starts classes. He calls me the night before for a little pep talk. I tell him that he doesn't need one, because he's already so fabulous! THAT makes him laugh. And I wonder if Brian has called to give him a similar little boost. I realize that I don't know exactly where Brian IS. It could be California -- or is it England now? Yes, it's London, Justin told me. Post-production, whatever THAT is. But no matter where Brian is, it isn't HERE, that much I do know.

That night I go over to the loft. Justin is already sitting at his computer, printing out his new schedule.

"How was the first day, Van Gogh?"

"Not too bad. I'm going to be busy, that's for sure. But I want to be busy. I want to keep myself occupied and get as much work done as I can and build up as many credit hours as I can. In case I want to think about transferring."

"Transferring? To where?" This is the first he's mentioned this. And I wonder if THAT was the little boost Brian may have given him over the phone -- the prospect of moving out to L.A.

"Somewhere out in Los Angeles," he answers, mirroring my thoughts.

I pull one of Brian's Italian chairs up next to Justin's computer and sit down. "What aren't you telling me, Baby? Are you and Brian really plotting something?"

"Maybe," is all he'll say.

"Come on, Baby -- spill! Aren't I your confidante?"

"I can't right now, Emmett. A lot of things have to happen first. But I want to prepare myself, just in case."

He shows me his class schedule and it looks daunting. "Are you certain this isn't too much work, honey? I mean, when are you going to play a little? You've got to make time to go to Babylon with me every once in a while. Like four or five times a week, at least!"

"Emmett...."

"You don't want to wear yourself out, Baby! And with that big art show coming up, you're going to be toiling night and day! You know what they say about all work and no play?"

"It's all right, Em. I need to focus. And I need to learn to budget my time better. This way I'll get a lot more done."

And he'll have a lot less time on his hands to think about Brian. That's the main thing. I know it is.

"Will you pick me up and take me to the party on Friday, Baby? Lindsay says 5:00 sharp."

Justin stands up and walks away from the computer -- and me. "I told you that I don't think I'm going, Em."

"But Baby, you have to go! You are practically a member of Gus' family! Especially since Brian isn't going to be there! YOU are the next closest thing!"

But he just shakes his head.

***

Ted takes me over to the party the minute we finish the Friday afternoon session at Jerk-at-Work. I am surprised that the first person I see -- after Lindsay greets me and Ted -- is Justin. He's standing by the buffet table that's been set up in the munchers' backyard, holding Gus in his arms.

"Baby! I knew you HAD to be here."

"I really wanted to be here, Em, but it's hard without Brian... Thinking about last year. And the year before that." He smiles a little sadly as he bounces Gus. "So, what do you think of the spread?"

I look around and see an extravaganza worthy of the son of Pittsburgh's biggest non-resident diva. The backyard is transformed by a professional caterer brought in to work their Fairyland Magic -- which is the theme, of course! Hundreds of twinkling lights are strung on all the trees and pinwheels spin in the breeze. There's a pony ride, a Tinky Winky Teletubby impersonator (played by one of Liberty Avenue's biggest drag queens, so Tinky Winky was NOT that big a stretch!), piles of food and treats for all the kids from Gus' daycare and play group, plus gallons of alcohol for the grown-ups.

"It's amazing, Baby! Really amazing!"

"I know." Justin observes some more people arriving. "Lindsay and Mel are taking all the credit, but it was Brian. He made all the arrangements. Had Cynthia hire the caterers. And I helped him plan the theme, the food. And Brian knew he wouldn't be here the whole time. He knew. But he still wanted everything to be perfect."

"But what about YOU, honey? How are you holding up?"

"I'm... fine. I wanted to be here for Gus, anyway." He sets the toddler down and takes him by the hand. "I'm not going to stay very long. I have a lot of work to do."

"Now you are NOT leaving here early! Don't be ridiculous, Baby! And after we've stuffed ourselves with all this food AND cake AND ice cream -- which I know is yet to come -- you are coming with me and Teddy and Michael and Ben to Babylon! It's Friday night and we are going to make sure our booties are well shaken!"

"No thanks, Em."

"I won't take 'no' for an answer! Come ON!" I take Justin's arm and pull the boy, who is pulling Gus, along to get some refreshments. A Mimosa cocktail is just the ticket for me, while Justin takes a beer, and a cup of fruit juice for the little birthday boy.

After he returns Gus to his mommies, Justin settles himself on the porch. The same place he sat -- out of the way and away from the crowd -- at last year's party. But last year he was sitting there with Brian. Now he's alone and I admit that it breaks my heart to see him there, his blue eyes gazing out at the festivities.

Periodically, Lindsay or Deb go over to try and coax him to join the fun, offering a plate of food or a huge piece of cake. Baby takes the food -- but he stays on the margins of the celebration.

Vic's new boyfriend, the ex-Father Tim of the devastating smile, is having an animated discussion with Ben. I bet they are comparing religions or some esoteric philosophies, because Michael is standing by, totally mystified. Eventually, Tim goes and sits with Justin for a long time. They also seem to be having an intense conversation. Vic comes up to me and pats my shoulder.

"Looks like Tim is getting friendly with Justin," I comment to Vic.

"Tim has a special way with boys," says Vic. "And men, too, to tell the truth!" We both laugh, because Tim IS a hottie! "I think Justin needs someone to talk to who isn't going to rag him about Brian all the time. That's why I think YOU have been a good influence, Emmett."

"Moi? A good influence?"

"Michael told me that you've been staying over at the loft a lot. Justin told Michael. And Michael is glad about it, because he can't do it himself. With Ben's health still a little shaky right now, he doesn't want to leave him at night. But he's happy -- and Tim and I are happy -- that you are doing it."

"I'm only being a friend, Vic. Justin asked me to come over a few times and I did. It's no trouble. I... I get lonely myself, too. I know what it's like to spend your time alone. Isolated. I spent a lot of years feeling that way." I give Vic a big hug. "You're a smart man, Victor Grassi."

"Not smart like Tim," he grins looking over at Tim and Justin, sitting on the porch. "But I do what I can."

"YEAH! The bastard didn't want to miss Happy Hour at the Polo Lounge, THAT'S where he is!" The voice of Miss Melanie is pretty hard to miss as it rises over the party noise. Apparently one of the guests has asked where Brian is.

"Now, Mel," soothes Miss Lindsay. "Please don't spoil the party!"

But Melanie shakes her off. "Getting your dick sucked out in Beverly Hills is a TOP priority, don't you know? His kid's second birthday party? Forget it! It doesn't rate!" Mel has had one Mimosa cocktail too many, I'm afraid, and she's feeling no pain -- and she has no inhibitions. I look over at the porch. Justin and Tim are sitting there listening to her tirade, stone faced. I decide to nip this in the bud.

"Excuse me," I interrupt. "But I believe Brian is in London. Working on post-production for his film. Working. To make money. For his son, Gus. His fancy pre-school and all those little extras that Lindsay is so fond of -- if I may be so bold as to mention it?"

"You may NOT!" roars Mel, giving me a push that sends me reeling backwards.

"Now, hon...," begins Lindsay, grabbing Melanie's elbow.

"He's a PRICK, Lindz! And that's all there is to it! Look what he's done to poor Justin! He's heartbroken! He can't even enjoy the party because that asshole dumped him and took off! AGAIN!"

Before I can respond to this, I see Justin standing next to me, with Tim and Vic right behind him. "I'm NOT 'Poor Justin,' Melanie," he starts, quietly, but fervently. "I'm not poor or heartbroken or despondent or pathetic or anything like that. Except in YOUR minds. Except because you WANT me to be. "

"Sunshine...." Debbie begins, but Michael puts his hand on her arm to silence her.

Justin looks around at all the guests, but especially at Mel and Lindsay, who are standing before him, gaping. His voice rises. "Because the only thing sicker and more disgusting than your labeling of Brian, is your labeling of ME. Trying to make ME into your object of pity. But I'm NOT miserable and I HAVEN'T been 'abandoned' by Brian! I'm NOT pitiful! And I won't let you MAKE me pitiful. And I won't let you demonize Brian, either. Especially after he PAID for this entire party! And all the food and drink. Even the goddamn cake! So eat it all up. I hope you all enjoy it." And he turns and strides purposefully towards the street.

"Justin!" Lindsay calls after him, and Debbie moves to follow Justin to the Jeep, but Michael and Vic hold her back.

"Let him go, Lindz!" shouts Mel. "He's brainwashed! Next time maybe he'll get 'Brian's Little Asslicker' tattooed on his forehead. THAT would serve him right!"

That's when I run after Justin, hoping to catch him before he pulls away. And I jump into the Jeep just as he shoves the vehicle into gear. We ride in silence to the loft. He doesn't ask why I followed him. But I assume that my place as official confidante speaks for itself. Justin parks in front of the building and we get out. Justin is keying us in when a pretty blonde woman pushes open the door. "Justin! I thought you were at the big party!" She seems flustered.

"Hi, Cynthia. I left early. I have some work to do. You remember my friend, Emmett?"

"Of course. Emmett. We met at Papagano's. Brian's dinner? How are you?"

Ah, ha! Brian's assistant at the ad agency. The one Justin says can work miracles. The one who got their boat -- and who ordered everything for the party we just left. "I'm fine and dandy," I reply.

"Well, Justin, I left some papers for you to sign. I would have mailed them, but... I was in the neighborhood and thought...."

"Thanks, Cynthia. I'll sign them and bring them over. Did you get the utility bill I sent?"

"Yes. It's all taken care of." Cynthia seems in a hurry to leave. "Call me if there's a problem, Justin. Don't hesitate. That's what I'm there for."

"Thanks, Cynthia."

And she starts down the sidewalk. But then she stops. "Oh, and boys -- next Friday night. You know that bar on Liberty? Woody's?"

Justin and I look at each other. "Slightly."

"A big promo party for 'The Olympian.' Film clips and giveaways and lots of special events. Ryder Associates is handling the promotion. You'll want to be there, I'm certain. Brian specified that bar particularly."

"Thanks for telling us, Cynthia." And off she goes, the image of efficiency.

"She's really nice, Em," Justin comments as we go up in the elevator. "She helped me with all the bills last winter and arranged for the contractors who put in my studio. Brian says he couldn't do business without her -- even when he isn't working at Ryder."

Justin unlocks the loft and taps in the code, pulling back the heavy door. The blue neon light is turned on, glowing eerily over the bed. "That's funny. I'm sure that was off, Em."

"Maybe Cynthia had an assignation here." And I couldn't blame her if she did!

Justin walks up onto the platform and I follow him. There are two packages wrapped in gold foil and tied with red ribbons. And a red rose is lying on the pillow on Justin's side of the bed. He leans down and picks it up.

"Cynthia must have left these here." Justin turns to me. "She didn't expect me to come back until later tonight." He looks at the rose. It's still damp and hasn't quite unfolded yet.

"I'll get something to hold the flower," I say, and go down to the kitchen, leaving the boy alone for a few moments. Of course, Brian doesn't DO flowers, so he has no vases, not even a bud vase. I find an empty wine bottle, rinse it out, fill it with water, and carry it back to the bedroom. Justin is sitting on the bed, slowly unpeeling the gold foil from the packages.

"Would you rather I go away, Baby?"

"What? Oh, no, Em." He takes out a DVD case and stares at it. "He remembered. Brian really DID remember our anniversary, Em."

I look over his shoulder. "'La Belle et La Bete.' 'Beauty and the Beast'! But that's not Disney, honey."

"No. It's the French version. Jean Cocteau. From about fifty years ago. Brian and I watched it in England. I tried to buy a copy, but it's out of print. Brian must have searched one down." He sets the DVD case down and opens the second package. It's a doll -- or a stuffed animal of sorts. Like something more for Gus than for Justin.

"It's the Beast." He holds it up for me to see, but it's all too odd for me to comprehend. The creature has horns and fangs and a bushy tail, but wears a royal blue velvet coat and a white ruffled shirt. "The red rose goes with the Beast. It's his most prized possession -- until he meets Beauty. That's what turns him human -- meeting and falling in love with Beauty. That's what transforms him -- completely." He sits a long time, gazing at the doll.

After a while I go and open the fridge, looking for something to eat. I missed the cake and ice cream, after all, and I think it will be a long, long night here with Justin, exactly two years since he set foot on Liberty Avenue for the very first time.

But Justin comes down from the platform. He's washed his face and changed his shirt. "Do you want to go back to the party, Em?"

I frown at the boy. "Are you sure?"

"We could get some cake. And maybe pick up Ted and Michael and Ben and go to Babylon afterwards? And invite Vic and Tim to come? They might want to. They just might want to come with us -- if we asked them."

"Certainly, Baby. You lead the way."

And he leaves the blue neon lights on when we go. And that funny Beast doll sitting on the bed, with the rose on the nightstand next to it. I'm not sure what it means. But then what I understand doesn't really matter. Nothing else really matters. Except what Justin and Brian understand. And they won't tell.

Continue on to "Idiot Wind", the next chapter.

©Gaedhal, October 2002

Updated October 24, 2002