This is Part 2
The other sections in "The Angel Stream".
Pittsburgh, August 2005
Jennifer Taylor approached the diner on Liberty Avenue with trepidation.
This was enemy territory. Or that's what it felt like. A world about which she knew nothing. A world in which she was stranger. The epicenter of Gay Pittsburgh.
But this was the world where her son now belonged. Where her son now worked. The Liberty Diner.
She took a deep breath before she opened the door and stepped inside.
The diner was about half-full in the hour before the dinner rush began. As Jennifer glanced around, it looked like a normal diner -- the garish colors, the faux-Fifties ambience, music blaring from a jukebox. But something about the place was slightly off.
She noticed two men kissing in a front booth. And a hefty woman with a shaved head and multiple piercings sitting at the counter.
And the waitress...
"Can I help you, sweetheart?" asked the waitress, a very tall woman with red hair and heavy, clown-like make-up.
"Are... are you Debbie?" Jennifer asked. All she knew was that the woman she was looking for was a waitress at the Liberty Diner and had red hair.
"No, sweetie," the waitress laughed. "I'm Kiki. Deb's on break. Hang on a sec." The waitress turned and yelled in a loud, gruff voice, "Hey, Deb! You got a visitor!"
"Thank you," said Jennifer politely. But as she stared more closely at Kiki she realized that this person wasn't a woman at all, but a middle-aged man in a wig and a waitress uniform. A drag queen! And this was where Justin worked! With these people!
"Keep you pants on!" a voiced shouted from the back. Then a woman -- a real woman this time, Jennifer noted -- burst out of the kitchen. "I'm coming! What's so important it can't wait for five more minutes until I'm off my break?"
"This lady is looking for you," said Kiki, indicating Jennifer.
"Well, you're seeing me!" Debbie laughed. "I'm Debbie Horvath, but you can call me Debbie, like everybody else! What can I do for you, honey?"
"I'm Jennifer Taylor," she replied. "And I'm told by my son that you can tell me something about an organization called P-FLAG."
"Jennifer Taylor?" Debbie repeated. "Are you Sunshine's mom?"
Jennifer blinked. "Sunshine? If you mean Justin, then yes, I'm his mother. I thought he might be here today. I know he works at this diner."
Debbie guffawed. "He hasn't worked here in over a month, hon. When was the last time you talked to him?"
Jennifer swallowed. "Last week. He never told me he'd quit his job." He never tells me anything anymore, Jennifer thought, fighting back tears.
"He got a better gig at the Watermark down on the Boardwalk," Debbie explained. "Much better tips there. He only worked here for a couple of weeks. Justin is a cutie and has a great ass. All the guys loved him!"
"Oh, dear," sighed Jennifer, feeling shaky. "Do you mind if I sit down?" She sank into the nearest booth and put her head in her hands.
Debbie frowned at the blonde woman. She had on an expensive outfit and she seemed like a nice lady, but something was definitely wrong with her. Deb sat herself down on the seat opposite Justin's mother and leaned over the table. "Are you gonna tell me what's the trouble?"
"Everything," Jennifer whimpered. "I feel like I'm losing my son! He never told me that he changed jobs. He... he never tells me what he's doing now. He used to confide in me about everything in his life. His friends, his classes -- everything! That is, he did before he met that... that Brian!"
"You mean before he told you he was gay?" Deb said gently. "When did he tell you, honey?"
"Last Christmas Eve," she sniffed. Debbie reached into the pocket of her apron and pulled out a handful of kleenex, handing them to Jennifer. "Thanks."
"But you already knew," said Deb. "You've known a long time, haven't you?"
"Maybe," Jennifer admitted. "But it was only a... a feeling. But when Justin said it out loud, that made it real. That made it true. And that's when everything changed. That's when that Brian came into the picture!"
"Listen, hon," Debbie reached over and patted Jennifer's hand. "I've known Brian Kinney since he was a tall, gangly kid who Mikey brought home for dinner one night. They were only about 13 or 14 years old, but Brian already had a chip on his shoulder the size of a fucking tree! His old man was an abusive drunk and his mother spent more time on her knees in church than looking out for her kids. Brian was pretty much left to fend for himself, to make his own way. I took one look at him and knew he was trouble. And I was right, because not long after that I came home and found the two of them in my house in the middle of day, drunk!"
"Is this supposed to reassure me?" Jennifer choked out. "Because it isn't working!"
Debbie shook her head. "I'm only telling you this to show you what Brian's had to survive. He could have been a total loss, like his old man. And it looked like that's the way he was headed. He ran away from home and got mixed up with some bad people. But eventually he pulled himself together. He was a smart kid and he got a scholarship to Penn State, so he went off to college and made something of himself. Brian's got a good job and he makes great money. He's a successful man."
"I know," said Jennifer. "He bought Justin a Jeep for his graduation. But that makes me think that... that he's buying my son! I hate to think that, but I can't help it!"
Debbie threw her head back and laughed. "Jennifer, honey, the last thing Brian Kinney needs to do is buy sex! All he has to do is walk down the street and he could find ten guys who'd have sex with him in a heartbeat! He bought Sunshine that Jeep so he'd be able to get around. And so he'd be safe. Pittsburgh is not an easy place for any gay man, but especially a young gay boy who can't defend himself. Brian knows that."
"I wish I could believe that this man has my son's best interests at heart," said Jennifer. "But it's hard! He's so much older than Justin. So much more experienced. I'm afraid Justin will get hurt by him." Jennifer leveled her eyes at Debbie. "He's going to hurt my son, isn't he? Tell me the truth."
Debbie sat back in the booth. She couldn't very well tell this woman that her son wouldn't get hurt. That he'd never get his heart broken. Or that Brian wouldn't be the one who broke it. That was the way of the world. That was life.
"Listen, Jennifer -- I don't have my crystal ball with me today," she said. "I can't predict the future. But everybody gets hurt. Everybody gets their heart broken eventually. But I've seen Brian and Justin together. They've been to my house. I've seen them here at the diner and at Woody's, the bar down the street. And I can tell you one thing -- Sunshine is in love with Brian. Head over heels in love. But Brian is in love with Justin, too. I can tell. You can see it in his face when he looks at the kid. Hear it in his voice. I've never seen him like that before. Never. Never seen him so gentle with anyone, except maybe his son, Gus."
"Son?" said Jennifer, in surprise. "Brian has a son?"
"Yup. Gus'll be five in a couple of weeks," Debbie informed her. "And Brian loves him like crazy, although he'd never admit it. The same with Justin. He loves him, even if he won't say it. But he does. I know."
"This is so hard for me," Jennifer whispered. "But I'm trying to understand. I'm trying to accept it. Especially since I know I can't change it."
"Then why don't you come with me to the next meeting of P-FLAG?" Deb suggested. "You'll meet a lot of people in the same boat as you. All parents of gay kids. And we all have one thing in common -- we love our kids. But we love them the way they are, not the way we want 'em to be. Unconditionally."
"That's the way I want to love Justin," Jennifer nodded. "But why is it so hard to accept?"
"You'll find a way," said Deb. She took Jennifer's hand and squeezed it. "Just open up your heart. Justin is already in there. But maybe one day you'll find a little room for Brian, too. Because he needs love even more than Justin. But I think they're finding it -- together."
Jennifer tried to smile, but to was difficult. So very difficult. Difficult to accept Justin's new life. And Brian. But she'd try.
She had no other choice.
"I can't believe they fired you!" Michael moaned. "How can they do that?"
"Gardner didn't fire me," Brian corrected him. He raised his eyebrow at the bartender, who immediately brought over two more Rolling Rocks. "I'm on suspension. For a month. Think of it as an unpaid vacation."
Woody's wasn't very crowded on that Tuesday night. Two guys were playing pool and a few men were at the scattered tables. But only Brian and Michael sat at the bar. Things had changed on Liberty Avenue in the past year. Gay men were more hesitant to go out these days. Mayor Stockwell's black-clad Anti-Sex Squad constantly patrolled the streets, waiting to pounce on anyone who stepped out of line. Many of the local bars, like Pistol and Boytoy, had closed, and even on the weekends Babylon was often only half full.
"What are you going to do for money?" Michael asked, his brow wrinkled with concern.
"I'll be fine," said Brian, dismissively. "It's not like when that fucking Kip claimed that I sexually harassed him. I've been covering my ass since then, at least financially. I can manage for a month -- and longer if I need to. But I'm sure that by then Gardner will have realized that he can't run Vangard without me. He might even be so anxious to get me back that he'll give me a huge fucking raise!"
"I hope you're right," said Michael. Brian talked with a lot of bravado, Michael thought, but he could tell that Brian was worried. He watched as his friend nervously peeled the label off the green bottle of beer and then shredded the paper into bits.
When Brian called and asked him to meet him at Woody's, Michael knew something was wrong. The truth was that they didn't hang out together very much anymore. Michael was busy with his store and his life with Ben and Hunter, while Brian was wrapped up in his twinkie boyfriend. Michael tried to remember when the old gang, including Emmett and Ted, had all been together, and he realized that it had been months.
But Michael had dropped what he was doing -- in that case looking over toy catalogs -- and come running. When Brian was in trouble Michael always came running. That's what it meant to be Brian's best friend.
"What about all your payments?" Michael asked. "Your credit cards? And the loft -- and the cars?" Michael feared that Brian's lavish lifestyle would be his downfall.
"The loft is paid for -- free and clear," Brian reassured him. "Same with the Vette. I bought it with the cash I made from the Carnivale. I'll just put my cards away and cut back on new purchases. Believe me, it won't be a problem."
Michael reached for another handful of peanuts and chewed them slowly. He'd left before he finished dinner and he was still hungry. With the way Hunter gobbled down everything in sight, there probably wouldn't be any leftovers by the time he got home.
"Well, what about that Jeep?" Michael said, his mouth full of peanuts. "That's not paid for yet. That kid is riding in it all over town -- and charging the gas to you!"
"Forget it," said Brian. He set down his empty bottle of Rolling Rock and pushed it away. "It's fine, Mikey, and I mean it. Justin needs that Jeep to get to work. And who knows? Soon he might have to support both of us."
"That's not funny, Brian!" Michael grumbled. "This is a serious situation! By the way, where IS Justin? How come he's not here?"
"He's working," Brian stated. "He's got the dinner shift tonight."
"You'd think he'd be here when you're in trouble," Michael returned. "I'm here!"
"I'm not in trouble, Michael," Brian insisted.
"Then why did you call me?" Michael demanded. "Why did you want me to meet you here at Woody's?"
"I don't know," Brian shrugged. He couldn't bring himself to tell Michael that he simply didn't want to be alone this evening. That his suspension from Vangard had thrown him for a fucking loop. That he really wanted Justin to be there with him. But that he also didn't want to upset him when he was working. There was plenty of time to tell Justin what had happened. Later. "Because you're so much fun, Mikey. Why else?"
"You're so full of shit, Brian!" Michael exclaimed. But he stopped questioning. Being with Brian felt good. It felt like nothing had changed between them. It felt like old times. Good times.
The two friends sat at the bar and drank beer and ate peanuts until it was almost 11:00. Brian knew that Michael wanted to get home, but he was reluctant to let him go. Justin was still at the Watermark and wouldn't be home until after midnight. The thought of returning to an empty loft gave Brian a dull ache.
Finally, Michael stood up and took out his keys. "Do you want me to drive you home, Brian? Or are you okay?"
"I'm okay," Brian nodded. "Toddle home to the Professor. I've only had a couple of beers. I think I can make it back to the loft without incident."
"All right," said Michael. He leaned over and kissed Brian goodbye. They had played out this scene hundreds of times over the years, but it was different now. They were different. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"Bye bye, Mikey," Brian sighed as Michael walked out of Woody's. He glanced at his watch. Still almost an hour to kill.
"Hey," said a voice. A guy slipped into the seat Michael had just vacated. "Remember me?"
Brian looked the guy up and down. "Not really." There had been so many fucking guys and this one didn't particularly stand out.
"We made it at the gym," the guy reminded him. "Last fall. In the steam room."
"Oh, the steam room." Brian grimaced. Was he kidding? He'd fucked so many guys in that steam room it wasn't even funny. "Of course."
"So -- what's up?" The guy moved a little closer.
"Nothing -- yet." Brian bit at his thumbnail. He was horny. It was late. He was just buzzed enough to take the edge off his anxiety.
"You doing anything?" the guy persisted.
"Not really." Brian glanced at his watch again. It was a quarter after 11:00.
"Wanna come back to my place?" the guy suggested.
Brian shook his head. "No, not really."
But the guy wasn't about to give up. Brian Kinney was high on his list of possible fucks. They'd only had time for a quick blowjob in the steam room, but the guy still hoped for more. "What about outside? The alley?" He glanced towards the door.
"No," said Brian, firmly. He remembered all too well the last time he'd gotten blown in the alley next to Woody's. Both he and the other man had ended up as guests of the Pittsburgh PD in their infamous Queens Tank.
"What about my car?" the guy pressed. Then he leaned over and whispered in Brian's ear. "You've got a beautiful cock. I'd love to wrap my lips around it again. And maybe more."
Brian hesitated. He hadn't tricked in a while. A long while. But the old urge, the old thrill, welled up inside of him suddenly. The instinct of the hunter. He was Brian Fucking Kinney, after all. He felt his cock twitch inside his jeans.
"Let's go," he said.
Brian followed the trick to his car, which was parked on Barker Place, where there were no streetlights. The car was a dark blue Honda Civic.
Brian shook his head. What was it with queers today? Everyone wanted to be safe. Normal. To blend into the crowd with all the straight, middle-class clones. And this guy was no different. A dark blue Honda Civic guy.
The trick unlocked the door and started to get in. But then he stopped. He looked around, fearfully. "What was that?"
Brian listened. In the distance he could hear a siren. But you heard sirens constantly in the city. Stockwell's Stormtroopers were busy at every hour of the day and night, especially downtown.
"It's nothing," said Brian. "Let's get going. I don't have all fucking night."
Brian slipped into the passenger seat and unbuckled his belt. He took out his dick, which was already half hard. He glanced at his watch. It was getting late. He hoped this guy was talented enough to get him off quickly.
But no such luck.
The trick was nervous and he sucked cock nervously, stopping intermittently to glance around. He couldn't concentrate and that threw off Brian's own concentration.
"Listen, is this going to take forever?" Brian finally asked. "Because if it is, I have to go."
"Wait," said the trick. "Can't we go to my place? It's only about five minutes away. Then we could have the whole night to kick back. And no one would bother us there."
"I don't want to go to your fucking place!" Brian said in exasperation. "I don't want to watch a video with you, or look at your home movies, or make popcorn with you! I want to get my dick sucked! And that's all! So if you can't do it, then fucking forget it and I'll take off."
"Sorry," said the trick as he watched Brian button up his jeans. "Let me give you my number. I still want to get together sometime."
Brian shook his head in disbelief. "You must be fucking kidding."
"No, really," the guy insisted. He fumbled in his pants to take out his wallet. "I know I have some paper in here." He opened the wallet and searched inside.
"What's that?" Brian frowned as he saw something in the trick's wallet. He put his hand out to grab it.
"Don't do that!" the man cried. "It's nothing." He paused. "It's not what you think."
But Brian took the wallet and opened it. There was a badge inside. And ID. "You're a cop. A fucking cop!"
"So what?" the trick replied. "So what if I am?"
"Are you undercover?" Brian's heart was beating wildly. "Is this a set-up?"
"If it was, I'd have performed a lot better," the cop moaned. "No, I'm off-duty. Jesus! I kept thinking we were going to get busted. Then my ass would really be in the fire!"
"Your ass?" said Brian. "What about MY ass? I don't give a fuck about your ass! What do you think you're trying to do?"
"Trying to get laid," said the cop, softly. "And trying not to get caught at it."
"You're pathetic," said Brian, disgustedly.
"I know." The trick took his wallet and shoved back into the pocket of his pants. "But what the hell am I supposed to do? What?"
"I don't know," said Brian, thinking about how he had helped Jim Stockwell get elected. About how the campaign had been floundering until Brian took it over. He'd been so smug when Stockwell won. He'd only been thinking about all the promises Gardner Vance made him if their client won. New accounts with cash to burn. Huge bonuses. A New York office that Brian would head.
Some of it had come true. They did have many new clients and the agency was making a lot of money. But when it had come time to open the New York branch of Vangard, Gardner had chosen another man -- a younger man recruited from a local agency who already knew the territory and who would bring them some high-profile Manhattan-based clients.
But as for everything else that came in the wake of the election... Brian had made a big mistake and he knew it almost immediately. Stockwell packed his administration with homophobes and right wing nutcases. He let the cops loose on Liberty Avenue until it was little better than a police state. And he chased people back into the closet in droves -- or made it impossible for them to come out in the first place.
"I don't know what you should do," Brian reiterated. "Quit. Leave town. Fight back. Whatever the fuck. But don't involve me."
Brian got out of the Honda and slammed the door behind him. He walked back up to Liberty Avenue. The sirens in the distance sounded louder now. Closer.
Brian kept walking.
©Gaedhal, January 2006.
Posted June 14, 2006.