This is Part 3
The other sections in "The Angel Stream".
Pittsburgh, August 2005
"That was my last table," said Justin, setting down the heavy tray. "Thank God! I'm dead on my feet!"
"If you think that was busy, you should be here on a Friday or Saturday night," laughed Bryce. "It's a total zoo! But the tips are great."
Bryce was a few years older than Justin and had been working evenings at the Watermark for over two years. Clarence, the manager, had assigned Bryce to keep an eye on Justin during his first evening shift.
"The tips I made tonight are a lot better than what I get in the afternoon out on the Patio." Justin rubbed his hand against his pocket and felt the bulge of cash there.
"Why don't you get Clarence to put you on evenings?" Bryce suggested.
"I'd love to, but he only let me work tonight because another waiter called in sick," Justin said as he and Bryce began to clean up the station.
"That would be Chad," Bryce sniffed. "He's a fuck-up. He's always missing his shift. Clarence should fire him, but he keeps him on because... well...." Bryce rolled his eyes.
"Because why?" Justin asked innocently.
"Because Chad puts out, that's why!" Bryce stated. "Every time Clarence is fed up and ready to kick his butt out of here, Chad gets him into a corner and sucks him off!"
"You're kidding!" Justin exclaimed. He'd heard about that kind of thing, but he never imagined it would happen at a nice place like the Watermark.
"No, I'm not kidding," said Bryce. "And if I were you, I'd watch my ass around Clarence. He's a total lecher."
"Yeah," Justin admitted. "He's bumped up against me a bunch of times, but I just ignore it. I don't want to slap his hands away and then get fired!"
"Well, watch yourself, Justin," said Bryce. "You're a good waiter. I'd hate to see Clarence drive you away. It's happened before. I've seen guys come -- and then I've seen them go!"
Justin frowned. Bryce was hot. He was muscular, with sun-bleached hair and a strong, handsome face. That's one of the reasons that he got such good tips -- he had a loyal clientele of gay male diners who always requested his tables. "Why doesn't Clarence hit on you? I'm not trying to butter you up or anything, Bryce, but you're the best-looking guy working here."
"I know," said Bryce as they walked down to the breakroom to change their clothes. "But Clarence doesn't bother to hit on me."
"Why not?" Justin asked in confusion.
"Because he's my lover," Bryce stated, opening his locker and taking out a clean shirt. "We've been together for six years."
"Oh," said Justin, turning bright red. But Bryce didn't seem the least bit fazed. He changed his clothes and went to meet Clarence out front, leaving Justin sitting on the bench.
This job is getting more interesting by the minute, Justin thought. And weirder, too.
He took out his cellphone and called Brian. But it went to voicemail. For some reason Brian had his phone turned off. That was odd. Even if Brian had gone out with Michael or over to see his son, Gus, he'd be home by now. Or he'd at least have his phone on.
Justin trudged out to the Jeep. Boy, my ass is dragging! he thought. I don't know how Debbie does all those double shifts at the Liberty Diner.
His arms and back ached from carrying the trays -- they seemed a lot heavier during the dinner shift in the main room than during lunch on the Patio. Everyone else on the shift was popping Extra Strength Tylenols, but Justin was afraid to take any for fear of a bad reaction to them. He was allergic to so many things that he avoided most drugs, even over-the-counter stuff.
But the money he'd made in tips was substantially more than what he made on the lunch shift. And if he worked dinners, then he'd have his days free to take some art classes in the fall. Ben Bruckner had given him a catalog from Carnegie Mellon and suggested a few good professors in the Art Department. He was already taking a drawing class that Lindsay taught at the Gay and Lesbian Center, but that was only once a week and most of the people were only taking it for fun. Justin wanted more than a fun class -- he wanted something more serious. More challenging.
But if he took classes during the day and worked in the evening -- that didn't leave much room for Brian. Or for their relationship.
As he got into the Jeep, he said a silent 'thank you' to Brian. He'd been right, as usual, about his need for his own transportation. The thought of waiting for a bus at this time of night made him shiver. Not that he really felt unsafe. It was just... a feeling of unease. There were so many police cars around. So many dark areas of the city. So many shadows at this time of night. Justin was far from a fearful kind of person, but he knew he needed to be alert. It never helped to go looking for trouble.
Justin walked into the loft and knew immediately that Brian wasn't there. That was odd. He was almost never out after midnight.
He pulled off his shoes and socks. His feet ached. He loved the loft, but often wished it had a bathtub. A long soak in a warm tub would be just the thing. He took off the rest of his clothes and went in to take a shower. Brian was probably out with Michael. In that case, he'd be home soon. Maybe even by the time Justin got out of the shower.
But Brian wasn't home when he got out. As Justin dried himself, he looked at the clock next to the bed. It was almost 1:00 a.m. He knew that Brian had work tomorrow, so it wasn't like him to be so late. And Justin had another lunch shift at the Watermark. He was exhausted and wanted to sleep, but he also wanted to wait up for Brian.
He wrapped his naked body in a thin blanket, sat on the sofa, and clicked on the television. He watched Conan O'Brien, trying to keep himself awake, but he kept dozing off. He clicked around some more. Movies. Infomercials. The Home Shopping Channel. Did anyone really buy this stuff? He watched some man practically swooning over a set of steak knives. How fucking gay was THAT? Justin thought. He kept surfing through the channels. Sports. MTV. VH-1. Lifetime. Some softcore hetero porn on the Curtain Network. So many channels and nothing he wanted to watch.
Where the fuck was Brian? It was now well after 2:00 a.m. He clicked the television off.
Justin heard a siren. Heard it get closer. Louder. Then sweep by on Fuller, right in front of the building. You heard a lot of sirens living in the city. The police. Fire trucks. Lots of noises outside.
But inside the loft was still. He could hear the building creaking. Water dripping in the shower. Justin pulled the blanket tighter around himself, not because he was cold -- it was a warm August night -- but for comfort.
How many years had Brian lived here all by himself? Justin wondered how he'd been able to stand it, year after year. The silence. The shadows. The loneliness.
He imagined Brian sitting on this same sofa. Drinking. Smoking a joint. Brooding. In the darkness. With the shadows closing in on him.
Justin covered his head with the blanket and shut his eyes.
Justin stirred on the sofa, kicking off the blanket. He was too hot and his back hurt.
But as he struggled against sleep he felt something looming over him in the dark. Something touching him ever so lightly.
"Jesus!" he cried out, sitting up and lashing out at the shadow.
"Don't kill me," said Brian, grabbing his arm and then pulling him into an embrace. "I know I'm late, but that's no reason to punch me in the nose, Sunshine."
"You scared the shit out of me, Brian!" Justin said in relief.
"Sorry," Brian whispered. "What are doing out here on the sofa?"
"Waiting for you." Justin rested his head on Brian's shoulder, inhaling the smell of cigarettes and sweat.
"You should be in bed. You worked two shifts today." Brian ran his hand through Justin's sleep-tousled hair, his fingers catching in a tangle at the back of his head.
"I know." Justin held onto Brian tightly.
"Aren't you going to yell at me for being late?" Brian asked. "Aren't you going to ask me where the fuck I've been?"
Justin took a deep breath. "You'll tell me if I need to know."
"No secrets," said Brian. "Isn't that what we agreed? No secrets and no excuses."
"Were you out tricking?" Justin asked.
He didn't want to have this discussion, but he knew it was inevitable. Brian fucked a lot of guys. He always had and he probably always would. Justin assumed that even though they were living together, Brian still tricked. But he wasn't obvious about it. If he did, then he never did it in front of Justin. He never shoved it in Justin's face or flaunted it. And he'd never been this late before.
"Sort of," Brian admitted.
"Sort of?" Justin pulled away and looked Brian in the eye. "What does that mean? Sort of?"
"I went to Woody's and sat with Michael for a few hours. Talking things over."
Talking things over. Justin felt a surge of anxiety. Talking what over? Their relationship?
"Then, after Mikey went home, I started talking to this guy," Brian continued. "I went out to his car." Brian shrugged. "But it was a no-go. So I got out of his car, walked back to the Vette, and drove around for a while." Brian glanced at the clock on the computer desk and saw that it was after 3:00 a.m. "I guess I drove around longer than I thought."
Justin squeezed his eyes shut, trying to be calm about the situation. At least Brian was being honest with him. At least he wasn't trying to hide what he'd been doing. But that didn't mean it didn't hurt.
So Justin decided to be honest with Brian. "And because I was working late, you couldn't wait for me to come home to get your dick sucked. Is that it, Brian? So that every time I'm out of your sight for more than two hours, that makes it okay to look for someone else to get your needs met? Is that the way it's going to be? Tell me now, so I can start getting used to it."
"No, that's not the way it's going to be," Brian maintained. He regarded Justin, who was looking him straight in the eye. Challenging him. Demanding the truth. "I... I won't make any excuses. It was a stupid thing to do. More stupid than you know. But... I was feeling lousy. I thought that trick would make me feel better. I was wrong."
Justin frowned. "Feeling lousy? About what?"
"Vance put me on suspension without pay," Brian said in a low voice. "For a month. That fucking idiot Sutton complained about my 'behavior.' Well, fuck him! And fuck Gardner, too! Let's see how Vangard does without me!"
Justin was shocked. He knew Gardner Vance didn't always see eye-to-eye with Brian, but he never imagined that he might punish him for something so ridiculous as what happened on the Patio at the Watermark. One kiss! One fucking kiss!
"He can't do that, Brian!" Justin insisted. "You're a partner!"
"Ever read 'Animal Farm'?" Brian asked. "It's like that. All partners are equal, but some partners are more equal than others. That's Gardner Vance. He's the pig who's more equal than all the others. More equal than me. And that's why he can do it."
"I'll ask for extra shifts at the restaurant!" Justin declared. "Don't worry, Brian! I'll take up the slack!"
Brian smiled. This kid! What the fuck would he do without him?
"Justin, you don't have to work any extra shifts," Brian advised. "We have money in the bank. More than enough to live on for a month or two -- or even longer. I own this loft and I have other assets as well. So think of the next month as an extended vacation. I'm planning to enjoy every minute of it."
Justin knew that his lover was lying. If he wasn't upset, then he wouldn't have gone to Woody's to cry on Michael's shoulder. He wouldn't have picked up the trick. And he wouldn't have driven around for hours afterwards, thinking. Brooding. Obviously worrying.
"I'm tired," said Justin. He stood up and pulled Brian with him. "Can you help me into bed?"
"I think I can do that," Brian said softly.
But it was Justin who led Brian up to the big platform bed. Justin who undressed him and kissed him and laid him down. Justin who took Brian's cock into his mouth and finished the job that the unsatisfactory trick had been unable to.
"Thanks," Brian murmured. "That was great. How come you always know exactly what I need?"
"It's not difficult," Justin grinned. "You're a pretty simple guy, Brian."
"Am I?" he sighed. "There goes years of building up the Kinney Mystique. Blown all to hell by a blond twink. And I do mean 'blown'!"
"I'm not a twink," said Justin. He pulled the dark blue sheets over the two of them and put his arms around Brian. "I'm your partner."
And Brian only nodded as he felt sleep -- and Justin -- drawing him in.
©Gaedhal, January 2006.
Posted June 14, 2006.