This is Chapter 29 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "The Olympian -- Part 2" the next chapter.
Narrated by Deb, with Brian, Phil, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings.
Summary: A surprise is served up for Deb at the diner on a rainy Monday morning in May 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.
Mondays are a bear at the diner, especially after a crazy weekend. And this was a crazy one. There were a bunch of activities going on in Pittsburgh, plus things up at the university connected with the school year wrapping up, and, to top it off, the weather was fuckin' beautiful. Everyone was out and about and it was like a wonderful preview of summer.
So Monday comes along to put everyone in a pissy mood. It's raining, too. Every single person who comes into the diner has a complaint or an attitude or both. By 9:00 a.m. I'm fed up. I know that Michael won't be coming in for breakfast this morning because he's driving back from some weekend thing he went to with Ben, so I tell Phil, who's working the grill, that I'm taking a half hour to go to the bank and run a few errands. The place is emptying out and I promise Phil that I will cover him this afternoon if he wants to take a breather. So, I book at about a quarter to ten and walk out into the lovely Pittsburgh rain to do my personal shit.
My head starts clearing right away. Even wet, the air is doing my headache a world of good.
However, my little chat with the bank doesn't make me feel a whole lot better.
"Mrs. Novotny, I can't be any plainer -- once your mortgage is paid off, it is paid off. Both of them, actually. You own your house free and clear and, unless you want to take out a new mortgage or loan, that is that."
"But, you see, I didn't pay off the loan. Someone else did."
"That is of no consequence to us, Mrs. Novotny. I suppose it is possible for you to reject the payment, but you'll have to take that up with the head of the loan department." The guy smiles at me, one of those condescending smiles these guys save for morons and the senile. "Most people would be ecstatic to have such a balance as you had reduced to nothing -- I'm not sure why you are even questioning the payment."
"I'm not fuckin' questioning it!"
He gives me one of those 'lady keep your voice down' eye-brow lifts.
"I'm not questioning it -- I'm just saying, is it right that anyone can just come in and pay off your debts? Just like that?"
"Madam, if you'd like to have your lawyer look into the matter, I'm sure that we would be happy to meet with him."
"Her." I think I'll give Melanie a call tonight, just in case.
"Whatever, Mrs. Novotny. But if I may ask -- is this a relative that you have some grievance against? And if you do, then why would he cancel YOUR debt? I guess, I just don't understand the situation."
"Buddy, you aren't the only one!"
After the blab with the banker I walk around in the rain a little and consider my alternating feelings of gratitude and fury at my benefactor. Who is, of course, Mr. Brian Kinney, the Invisible Man of Tremont, Liberty, and All Points West.
We were informed of this little act of charity by an over-dressed blonde who said she was his 'administrative assistant" and a dude in a three piece suit who was a lawyer from that ad agency he either works for or doesn't work for -- I can't fucking figure it out. They came to the door one evening a few weeks ago with some papers and a long line of gobbledegook, and Vic and I nodded, and I think I signed some papers and -- bang! -- our mortgage was paid off. The house was paid for. We didn't owe a fucking thing to the bank anymore. For the first time in my life I wasn't in debt up to my eyeballs.
Then I start thinking. Now I owe HIM big time. Maybe I don't WANT to owe him my fucking financial security! Maybe I WANT to remain free and clear so I can ream him out any time I want to without feeling guilty about it. But Vic keeps saying that it's the right thing to do. That it's his way of paying back for stuff years and years ago. Stuff so far back that I tend to forget about it a lot. Things I probably shouldn't forget, but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, he makes me so mad at him sometimes I could just spit.
And then Vic drops the bomb on me. Tells me, do I know that particular course of treatment he's been on? That he told me was covered by his insurance and by some special program he was in? Well, it's all been a crock. That Brian -- yes! -- has been paying supplements and for extra protocols and God knows what else for the last THREE fuckin' years!
"And when were you going to tell me about this?"
"Hopefully, never." And then he refuses to talk about it anymore and refuses to let me bitch any more about the payment -- pay-off! -- or anything having to do with Brian and money.
So, there it is. My whole family -- Vic, Michael (the comic book store was a gift, let's face it -- paid for by the sale of that Astro book thing), and now me -- in the pocket of Brian. And I can't say a fuckin' thing or do a fuckin' thing about it.
I walk in the diner and go into the back, taking off my coat and shaking off the rain from it and my umbrella. I put on my apron and think about how I miss having Sunshine working the morning shift with me. There's a new kid and he's cute enough and a decent worker, but he isn't Sunshine. He doesn't make me cheerful just working next to him. He doesn't make the morning zip along with his funny observations. Yes, Justin's doing good with Michael and he has the store books all straightened around and he and Michael are working on that internet thing and even talking about going into publishing their own comic books -- but I guess I'll always feel his true place is at the diner. With me. Where I can keep an eye on him. As it is, I hardly even see him anymore and that makes me very sad.
I walk out and scan the room. Pretty quiet. Phil has a couple orders up and I take them to some fellas at the front table. Then take the payment of a woman who is sitting at the counter. That leaves a guy in the second to the last booth. Michael's old spot. Well-dressed, with an expensive-looking coat thrown over the back of the seat. He's got a copy of 'The New York Times' up covering his face, turning the pages with a lazy flick. Oh, a man of the world in our diner!
"What'll it be? And the blue plate special isn't lobster and filet mignon. At least not today."
"You can hold the sarcasm and bring me a plain bagel, toasted, with butter. And I also need a turkey sandwich to go. On whole grain -- no mayo. As usual."
I look into those cat-eyes and almost have a fuckin' stroke.
"What the HELL are you doing here?!"
"Please. Not so loud. My head is still aching from about ten hours on goddamn airplanes." He winces. "And, as much as it pains me to say it, could you bring me some herbal tea with that bagel? Something not too disgustingly fruity or lesbianic. I can't have any coffee."
"You aren't getting so much as a packet of sugar until you tell me what in blazes you are doing here!"
"Trying to have breakfast. Shit, I should have ordered from Phil when I had the chance instead of waiting for you to come back." He snaps his newspaper closed, folds it, and lays it on the table.
"I was just over at the bank, wrangling with that bastard at the loan desk over that mortgage payment!"
He frowns. "Don't tell me they screwed it up? I'll call Cynthia this afternoon and have her take care of it."
"No, they didn't screw it up! I was trying to figure out a way to fuckin' make them take it all back!"
Now he's really looking at me. It's a puzzled look. A kind of hurt look. I start to feel a little jittery. And guilty. "Why would you want to do that, Deb?"
"I...." Because you're a fucking asshole! Because you were so mean to Sunshine -- holy shit, Sunshine! Because I don't want to owe you my fuckin' life! "Because it's too much, Brian. Too much to give to someone like that. And I know I can never pay you back."
"But I don't want you to pay me back. It's only fucking money."
I look at him closely while he's saying this and, I don't know, I don't like what I see. Something is the matter with him. Something is just not right. He's sitting in his usual spot. In those expensive clothes. His hair is long and kind of shaggy-looking. I know that's for the movie. It takes place in the Sixties or Seventies or something and he has to have longer hair. But the hair seems to be covering a wasted look. Not as in stoned wasted, but as in thin and tired and worn away. There are dark smudges under his eyes and his chin looks extra sharp and dangerous.
"When did you get in?"
"I took the old red-eye last night and got into New York early this morning. Do you know what's it's like in Kennedy at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning? Then I had to wait around for three hours for the flight in to Pittsburgh. My fucking ears are still buzzing."
"But WHAT are you doing here?"
"Why, I live here, don't I, Deb?"
"DO you? Do you?"
He shrugs. "Then, I'm on vacation. It was the choice between this and a fully stocked house in Maui. Of course, they all thought I was crazy when I took Pittsburgh over Hawaii, but then you know I've always been contrary."
"So, you are just here... visiting?"
"Do you think I could get that bagel?"
"Oh, sure. Sure."
I hustle over to get the order ready. Phil is at the grill and gives me the eye. I lean over to him. "When did he come in here?"
"Not long after you left. I wanted to run out and find you, but there was no one to cover the place."
"Shit!" I rummage through the jar with the packets of tea in it. "I'll have to let him pick one. What do I know about tea?"
"You could have knocked me over with a feather when he came slouching in here. He pulled up in that big car parked outside. Looks like a BMW or something. Probably a rental."
"Jesus, Phil, what did you expect? Him to pull up in the Jeep?"
Holy shit! The Jeep. The loft. Where the hell is Sunshine this time of day? I don't have his cellphone number with me. Damn it! I can't even call Michael because he's on the road somewhere between here and the Laurel Mountains with that Ben.
The bagel pops out and I butter it and take it to the table. Brian is just kind of staring into space. Spacey, yes, that's the way he seems, like he's not exactly there. And if there was one thing about Brian -- he was always THERE, even when you didn't want him to be.
I put the plate down. "Hm?" He looks down at it as if he doesn't know what it is.
"Here are the teas. Pick one that suits you. I'll get the water."
I leave him looking at the packages of tea and go get the little pot for the hot water and a cup. Herbal tea! Jesus, what next?
He rips a packet open and puts the little bag in the cup. "Mint. That doesn't seem too horrible, does it?"
I pour the hot water over the bag. He grimaces at the procedure. "Better than these lemon-cream-raspberry-parfait flavors, I'd say. So, what's this 'no coffee' deal?"
"Something about the caffeine. I'm not supposed to have any."
"And since when the fuck do you do what anyone tells you to do? Brian Kinney, the man who feels it's his duty to light up under every 'No Smoking' sign in town!"
"I can't do that either." He takes a bite of the bagel.
Now, I've been trying to get him to quit smoking since he was fourteen years old, but this 'can't do it' thing creeps me out. "Who says? Who's telling you that you can't do it?"
"Everyone. The studio. Ron. My coach. My doctor. My other doctor. My analyst. Everybody."
"Since when do you have all these people telling you what to do?"
"Deb, you are so naive." He drinks some of the tea. "It's not too terrible." But he puts the cup down and pushes it away. "The caffeine suppresses my appetite and is bad for my digestion and blood pressure. The smoking is bad for my lungs and cardiovascular system and I can't perform the way I should. Milk, ice cream, cheese all make me sick and give me cramps and the runs. Too much red meat is bad for my cholesterol level, which is too high. I can't eat right. I can't sleep right. I can't be awake right. And I've lost almost fifteen pounds in the last two months -- and, believe me, I wasn't trying. The only thing I still know how to do is fuck -- but at the rate I'm going, I won't have the energy or the will power to do even that. And how has your day been, Deb?"
"Can you get me that sandwich to go now? I'm supposed to eat something every few hours and if I don't get something to eat here I won't bother later on."
"Sure, honey, sure."
I go over and get Phil to start on the order. And I'm watching him sitting in the booth. It's like there's something majorly missing here. And I know what it is: it's 'Brian'! Because I'm not certain what's sitting there, but it isn't the guy know. The guy I've known since he was a kid. It's someone walking around in a Brian suit. That scares the hell out of me! All thoughts of giving him the piece of my mind that I've been dreaming of doing for months now evaporate. I don't know what the hell to do. Or to say.
He sits there, takes another bite of the bagel and pushes that away. He didn't even eat fuckin' half of it.
I carry the box with the sandwich to the booth. "I put a couple of lemon squares in there, too."
"That's great. Just the thing." His voice is so soft, like it's disappearing, even as I listen. "I hate to order room service unless I really have to."
"Are you staying at a hotel?"
"They reserved a suite for me at the Sheraton-Carnegie. Do you believe they wanted to send people with me? Like an assistant and a publicist and who knows what else. I guess to keep an eye on me. But I told them if they couldn't trust me alone in my own hometown, then they better just lock me up and throw away the key. The suite is probably big enough for six fucking people!"
He stands up and reaches in to get his wallet.
"Honey, the food is on me. I mean, what I owe you already...."
"Deb, I told you -- it's only fucking money. Don't worry about it. I don't." He puts a bill under the tea cup for the tip. I can see that it's a fifty, but I don't challenge him on it. He stands up to put on his coat and I can see how the beautiful suit is hanging off him. "I'll probably see you around while I'm here."
"How long is that for?"
"I have two weeks and then I have to be back. If I'm not kicked out of town before that." He leans over and kisses my cheek. His face feels hot, even feverish. "I'm so tired I really need to go right to sleep -- and I still have to check in and call my office and...." He stops and clutches at the box with the sandwich. "But I have one place I have to go before I do all that."
I feel a little twinge in the pit of my stomach.
"First, I have to make a stop at the loft."
Continue on to "Love Minus Zero/No Limit -- Part 1", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, May 2002
Picture of Sharon Gless from Showtime.
Updated June 16, 2002