FEELING GOOD

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter 72 of the "Queer Realities" series.

The narrator is Justin Taylor, and features Brian Kinney,Dr. Adam Bernstein, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: The truth can hurt -- and heal. Pittsburgh, May 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit.

"Birds flying high,
You know how I feel.
Sun in the sky,
You know how I feel.
Reeds drifting on by,
You know how I feel.
It's a new dawn,
It's a new day,
It's a new life
For me...
And I'm feeling good.

Fish in the sea,
You know how I feel.
River running free,
You know how I feel.
Blossom in the trees,
You know how I feel.
It's a new dawn,
It's a new day,
It's a new life
For me...
And I'm feeling good..."

***

"Hey! What took you so long?" Brian asks as I come in. I can see that he's been unpacking his clothes from the cardboard boxes and also arranging things for when Gus comes over tomorrow. "So, which do you prefer for dinner tonight? Angelo's or the Tuscan Gardens? I like the pizza at Angelo's, but I know you like the pasta at Tuscan Gardens better."

I don't say anything. What the fuck can I say? How can I even begin to tell Brian what's the matter? But I have to.

He looks at me and frowns. Then he comes over and puts his arms around me. "What's wrong? What happened over at PIFA?"

I had been so excited about the Warhol Museum wanting to buy my print of Em, and about the new exhibition at the Austin Gallery, that I could hardly wait to run home and tell Brian. But after talking to Marshall all I want to do is hide my face. How could I have been so fucking stupid? If I have VD and gave it to Brian, I don't know what the fuck I'll do! Probably jump off the roof.

I try to say something, but I start to cough instead. My throat feels rough. It begins to throb. What did Marshall call it? Pharyngeal gonorrhea. It sounds so ugly. A disease in my throat. A disease that Dylan gave me.

When Brian and I first started going on our Date Nights, he took me to the Liberty Baths for the first time. It was scary and exciting at the same time. I felt like Brian was finally treating me like a man. Like an equal.

"Follow my lead," he told me as we took off our clothes and put them in a locker. "Look at the guys carefully. Avoid the obvious trolls and scumbags. But even if a guy seems hot, don't jump into anything right away. You have all evening to look around and find someone decent, so don't rush it. You begin to develop a sixth sense about sex partners. Sometimes a guy will look okay, but you have a bad feeling about him. Go with that feeling and get away from him as fast as you can. And never take a guy's word for it when he says he's clean. Let me repeat that -- NEVER TAKE A GUY'S WORD FOR IT. Period. There are creeps out there who get off on lying about their HIV status. They'll assure you that they're fine and try to talk you into letting them fuck you without a condom. If that happens, find the manager and let him know so he can throw the jerk out. But there are other diseases out there, too, and you should be aware of them. Always get a good look at the guy's dick. If it has sores on it or smells bad or just seems wrong, it probably is. Be alert and know what you're doing."

Every time we went to the baths or a sex club, Brian always watched out for me. He was always standing right there, making sure I was okay. Making sure the condoms were in place. Not letting anyone else fuck me. Not letting me suck off anyone else. Never allowing things to get out of hand.

But with Dylan I let things get out of hand. I wasn't in control. I let things happen and never thought about the repercussions. I blocked out all the possible emotional and psychological consequences and let Dylan take charge. And I also never considered the physical consequences. As long as Dylan used a condom, I thought it was safe. And I can't even think about all those guys in the backroom...

I squeeze my eyes shut, cursing myself.

Brian leads me over to the sofa and sits me down. Then he gets a bottle of water from the fridge and makes me take a long swig. It feels good to drink it. Cool. But my throat is still burning. It hurts when I swallow.

"Did you see Marshall?" Brian asks, sitting next to me. I nod. "Is he all right?"

I shake my head. "No. That's what he wanted to tell me. He's not all right, Brian. And probably neither am I."

"What does that mean?" Brian presses. "Why aren't you okay? Did you run into that fucking Dylan over there?"

"No, I didn't see Dylan." I take Brian's hand and our fingers intertwine. Maybe for the last time. "But this is about him. And about me, too. And Marshall. And apparently about a bunch of other guys whose names I don't even know." I start to laugh, but it's hysterical laughter. After all, the real laugh is on me.

"Remember when we talked the other night?" says Brian.

"Yes," I reply, barely able to speak.

"I know something's wrong, so don't be afraid to tell me," Brian says like he really means it. "There's nothing we can't say to each other, right? Didn't we agree about that? I won't shut you out and you won't abandon me. It was a deal, remember? We shook on it."

"I remember," I answer.

That's the way it has to be. We have to trust each other or this whole relationship is pointless. And even if Brian freaks and throws me out, even if he can never forgive me for this, I have to do it. It's no longer about what I want. It's about the right thing to do.

So I tell him everything. What Marshall said about Dylan and him. About Dylan and Ethan. Dylan and Wade. Dylan and Alan Wray. Dylan and a couple of guys on his baseball team. And about the gonorrhea. About how I need to go to the doctor to get checked out. And so does Brian.

Brian listens in silence, his face impassive. A few times I see the corners of his mouth twitch, like he's about to say something, but he doesn't. He only listens.

His stillness frightens me. I can feel a wall of emotion building behind that blank face. And I fear it's going to be unleashed on me as soon as I finish speaking.

"I should go to the Health Center first thing tomorrow," I conclude. "That's where Marshall went. He had to get a shot..."

But Brian interrupts me. "A single injection, 125 milligrams of ceftriaxone antibiotic, into a muscle, usually your ass, with follow-up in a week. And no fucking, sucking, or fooling around until you get the all-clear. Is that it?"

"I guess so," I breathe. "I don't know the name of... of whatever it is they give you."

Brian suddenly stands up and goes over to his desk. He grabs his Palm Pilot, which is lying next to his computer, and checks something. Then he picks up the phone and punches in a number.

"Adam? Brian Kinney here... Yeah, it's been a while. L.A. is great, but when it comes to certain things, no one can compare to you... I know, I'm just a sweet talker... Listen, can you squeeze me in tomorrow morning? Actually, there will be two of us. Yes, my partner, too. Looks like the clap... Don't give me a fucking lecture, Adam. I know... I know! You're right. I should be more careful. But I'm a big boy and these things happen. 9:00 tomorrow? I appreciate it. We'll be there. And thanks."

Brian hangs up and comes back to the sofa. "Let's call Angelo's and have the pizza delivered. I don't think you're in any mood to go out to dinner. Should I order the usual? Sausage, onion, and green pepper? Or do you want to try something different?"

I stare up at him in disbelief. "Is that all you're going to say, Brian? What do I want on my pizza? I just told you that I might have given you a fucking venereal disease!"

"Yes, I heard you. And tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. we'll both be in the office of eminent urologist Dr. Adam Bernstein, Gay Pittsburgh's leading Clap Doctor. He and I are old friends -- professionally speaking, of course." Brian coughs and raises his eyebrows. "He knows my cock almost as well as you do, Sunshine."

I keep staring at him. "Aren't you upset, Brian?" I ask. "At all?"

"Yes, I'm upset," he replies. "I'd like to take that idiot Dylan Burke and tie his lousy dick in a knot so he can't stick it anywhere else for as long as he lives. And I'm upset that you have to get the clap in such a distasteful way -- not that there's a tasteful way to get gonorrhea. There isn't. But you're a man, Justin -- a gay man. And that means you're going to get something once in a while. Something nasty. And so am I. Be happy it isn't something worse." Brian puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes it. "Dr. Bernstein's magic syringe will fix both of us up in a jiffy. But it'll be strictly platonic for you and me for the next week. For that alone I'd like to kick Mr. Burke's fucking face in. However, if he has truly spread his joy around as widely as your friend Marshall conjectures, then I may not have to kick his face in at all. There should be plenty of other guys standing in line to do it for me."

That's all I need to hear. Brian isn't going to throw me out. He isn't going to kick me to the curb. He's not even angry at me -- he's pissed off at Dylan!

Relief flows over me like a wave and, to my dismay, I break down. But I don't give a shit. I feel like I've been holding everything inside for weeks -- but now I let it all go.

And Brian doesn't turn away. I used to pretend that I never cried because Brian seemed so uncomfortable with such open displays of emotion. So I'd pretend it was my allergies, or else I'd hide it, or wait until I was alone and then let go. But now I know that Brian can show his emotions, too. It's nothing to be ashamed of. For either of us.

Brian sits next to me on the sofa and holds me. That's all he does. Because that's what I need right now and he knows it. Holds me and strokes my hair while I sob on his shoulder. I've seen him do that with Gus when he needed to be comforted. And now he's doing it for me.

"I... I'd like the usual," I say, finally. "Sausage, onion, and green peppers."

Brian nods and goes back to the phone to place the order. In this awful situation he knows exactly the right thing to do. Acting like everything is perfectly normal. Saving me from having to beg off leaving the loft. Making it seem like it's his fucking idea. He knows I don't want to see anyone right now, not even strangers in a restaurant. He knows that. He knows me.

He puts on some music. Billie Holiday. When I moved back into the loft I noticed from the CDs piled by the stereo that Brian's been listening to a lot of jazz lately. Miles Davis. John Coltrane. Thelonious Monk. Billie Holiday. In the evenings, instead of turning on the tube and letting it play mindlessly, he puts on one of those CDs. At first I wasn't sure if I liked the music, but it gets under your skin. Especially Billie Holiday. Her voice is strange -- sometimes it's harsh or even off-key, but it gets to you. I asked Brian why he liked her and he said that the beauty of her voice was in its imperfection. That imperfection made her real.

That's it, really. The imperfection is the reality. Our relationship isn't perfect, Brian isn't perfect and, God knows, I'm not perfect. But it's real. It's a queer kind of reality. And a queer kind of beauty.

The pizza comes and I eat a little bit of it, but not much. I'm not hungry. Brian doesn't try to force me to eat. He understands. He's not that hungry, either.

The two of us sit on the sofa and listen to the music all evening. Brian's arms are around me. He doesn't say anything to me. He doesn't need to say anything at this point. We'll have plenty of time to talk later.

The rest of our lives.

I hope.

***

The last thing I remember last night is being on the sofa with my head in Brian's lap. But I wake up in the bed, so Brian must have transferred me sometime during the middle of the night.

The alarm is beeping softly.

"Hey. Get up," he whispers. "We have an appointment at 9:00."

Yes, to see the doctor.

Brian takes my hand and hauls me out of bed and into the shower. But it's not like most mornings. There's no horseplay. No fucking as the hot water cascades around us. Instead, it's almost solemn. Brian soaps my back gently, then runs his fingers through my wet hair. We rinse off and Brian gets out first, handing me a towel.

"Are you all right?" he asks.

I can only nod.

Brian doesn't bother to shave and puts on a pair of old jeans with a plain dark tee shirt. I follow his lead and dress casually, since we're only going to have to undress at the doctor's office. He also takes out one of his dozen pairs of expensive sunglasses and slips them in his back pocket. Then Brian surprises me by opening his dresser drawer and taking out a Pirates baseball cap. Brian never wears a hat.

He puts it on and checks himself in the mirror, making a face.

"What's with the hat?" I ask.

"Just in case," he says.

Then I get it. The nondescript clothes. The sunglasses. The dumb hat. He doesn't want to be recognized going in to see Pittsburgh's most infamous STD doctor. Wouldn't that be a great headline in the 'National Enquirer'? "Brian Kinney Has the Clap!"

"You want one?" Brian asks.

"I guess."

Brian reaches into the drawer again and pulls out an Indians cap. I plop it on top of my head and look in the mirror. Brian still looks exactly like Brian Kinney, hat or no hat. And I still look like myself wearing a too-small baseball cap. We both look ridiculous, but what the fuck?

In the Jeep Brian fidgets with the radio, finally ending up with some morning news program on NPR. The voices of the reporters fill the awkward silence. It's mainly war news, which seems fitting because my whole fucking body is in turmoil. Brian didn't even ask me if I wanted anything for breakfast because the answer was obvious -- I would have just thrown it back up.

The traffic downtown is heavy, but we pull into a parking lot at five minutes to 9. It's one of the newer medical buildings, all dark glass with a large atrium filled with trees and plants. In the elevator going up to the sixth floor Brian holds my hand.

In Dr. Bernstein's waiting room there are only two other people -- an old man and a much younger woman who's with him. Neither of them even glance at us. The nurse behind the glass immediately motions us through the door and into an examining room. She hands us each a clipboard with forms to fill out.

"What's your insurance company?" she asks Brian.

"I'm paying cash," says Brian. "For both of us." The woman nods and leaves us alone.

I fill out the forms in a daze. All the regular questions about childhood diseases. Inoculations you've had. Your main complaint. Then the question that stops me in my tracks. List all of your sexual partners in the past year. Shit. I watch Brian writing. He doesn't look up at me.

Brian is the first name I write. Then Dylan. My hand shakes as I write down Ron's name. But Ron is dead. I cross him off. What about the guys that fucked me in the backroom? I don't know who they were. Even if I were to recognize their faces, I don't know their names.

I drop my pen on the floor. "Fuck."

Brian picks it up and hands it back to me. "Fill out the form as best you can," he says, reading my mind. "That's all you can do. That's all I can do."

Why is it all so fucked up? It's not supposed to be like this.

The nurse comes back and takes away the clipboards, leaving us sitting together in the examining room.

"Do you want me to leave the room when the doc comes in?" Brian asks.

"No!" I cry. "Don't leave me alone!" That's when I realize I'm about to lose it totally.

"Justin," Brian says quietly, squeezing my hand. "This is nothing to freak out over. This may be the first time for you, but I guarantee it won't be the last. I won't go into how many times I've made the trip to Adam Bernstein's Clap Clinic. Michael's had it at least three times that I know of. Emmett and Ted -- they've both made this trek several times. So has almost every guy on Liberty Avenue, if they'd be honest about it. And plenty of straight guys, too. Shit happens. You deal and move on."

"This is never going to happen to me again," I vow. "Never!"

"Are you giving up fucking completely then?" Brian asks quizzically. "Because if you're planning on fucking me in the future, it could happen again. You know that I'm almost obsessive about being safe, but I still pick up something every once in a while. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop fucking. I'm just going to try to be extra careful. And you should be, too. But you can't wrap yourself in plastic and never leave home. Life isn't worth living if you don't actually live it -- and living means taking risks. And that includes sex."

"I don't want to go through this again!" I tell him. "If I... I gave you a disease...."

"And I could have given you one at any time," Brian states bluntly. "I could have given you the clap the first time we fucked. Or crabs. Or whatever. A condom is vital to protect you from HIV, but it's not fool-proof."

My blood runs cold. "Do you think that Dylan... has anything... else?" I can't even say what's in my mind. Because I'm also thinking of all those faceless guys in the back room....

"I don't know," says Brian, his face serious. "But I want Adam to do an HIV test, too, along withthe STDs, so we'll find out soon enough."

Another nurse comes into the room and draws blood, first from Brian, then from me. Then she gives us each a cup with a numbered label for the urine test. She leaves the room. Brian fills his cup matter-of-factly, but I have a harder time. I'm so fucking nervous. But I manage enough for the sample. Brian opens the door and hands her the two cups. Then we wait.

"How long will it take to... to find out?" I ask.

"I'll ask Adam to put a rush on the results, but we'll still get the shots today. That way we don't have to come back next week." Brian glances up at the clock on the wall. "It feels like we've been sitting here for hours, but it isn't even 10:00," he says. "Funny how your perception of time gets all fucked up when you're waiting. By the way, Lindsay is supposed to drop Gus off this afternoon after he gets out of pre-school. That is, if you still want him to come for the weekend?"

"Of course I want him to come!" I say. "More than ever. I want this weekend to be... normal. Just you, me, and Gus." I swallow. "He... he can't catch anything, can he?"

"No!" Brian says firmly. "You don't still believe you can get the clap from a toilet seat, Sunshine? Don't worry about Gus." He pauses. "But let's not tell the girls about this little visit. I can imagine the stink Melanie will kick up if she finds out I've been treated for an STD!"

"Me, too," I add.

"Yeah, but she won't hold it against you," Brian reminds me. "And Lindsay will make that fucking disappointed face she gives me when I don't live up to her expectations. Which is most of the time. So let's just keep this under our hats." Brian flips the baseball cap he's been holding in his lap.

"You don't really think that hat is any kind of disguise, do you?" I inquire.

"No, but it makes me feel like I'm incognito." Brian raises his eyebrows. "We both look pretty stupid wearing them."

I'm about to make a snarky reply when the door opens and Dr. Bernstein walks in. I know right away that he's a former trick of Brian's. He's exactly Brian's 'type' -- tall, dark-haired, broad-shouldered, with a strong face that isn't really handsome, but is still sexy.

"Well, Brian, long time, no see." says the doctor, sitting on a small stool and laying some folders on the counter. Then he turns to me. "And you're Mr. Taylor?"

"Justin Taylor," I croak out. My throat still aches like crazy.

He opens one of the folders and makes a note in it. "So, gentlemen," he continues. "You two think you might have a slight problem?"

"Yes," says Brian before I can answer. "Seems like the clap. I want you to do all three smears. And the usual other tests. HIV too, if you will."

Dr. Bernstein nods and opens another folder, reading something. "Your last HIV test was when, Brian?"

"January," he says. "I was in drug rehab and they did one then. I was negative."

The doctor turns to me. "And your last HIV test?"

"Over a year ago," I whisper. I can hardly speak. "It was okay."

"You should have one every six months," Dr. Bernstein says sharply. "Especially if you're having sex with multiple partners."

"He knows," Brian interrupts. "This was a mistake, Adam. Mainly my mistake. Mistakes happen."

"And mistakes can be deadly, Brian," the doctor replies sternly. "I would have thought you'd be more careful when it came to your partner's health. It's one thing to fuck around when you're only thinking of yourself, but quite another to bring an infection home to your lover."

"But Brian didn't...," I try to say. But Brian reaches over and touches my hand, silencing me.

"It won't happen again," says Brian. "I assure you."

"Then consider this a wake-up call -- for both of you." Dr. Bernstein begins preparing something at the counter. Long cotton swabs and plastic containers for the cultures. "Who wants to go first?" he asks.

"I will," says Brian, catching my eye and nodding. He stands up and undoes his jeans. The doctor takes a swab of his throat, then the tip of his dick, and then his ass. I flinch, but Brian never even blinks.

"And now, Mr. Taylor." Dr. Bernstein smiles at me, but I stand up shakily. This is so fucking humiliating!

When I bend over so the doctor can stick the swab up my ass, Brian takes my hand. "Sorry, Sunshine," he whispers. "It'll be over in a few minutes and then everything will be all right."

And then the doctor is done. He discards his latex gloves in the trash, then goes over to the sink and washes his hands. "You want the gonorrhea treatment now, Brian?"

"Yes," Brian says. "Better to be safe and get it while we're here."

"Right." Dr. Bernstein picks up his folders. "My nurse will be in to give you the injections. You know the drill, Brian. No sexual contact until you get a follow-up in about a week to make certain you're clear. You both MUST contact all your sexual partners as soon as possible so they can get tested -- no excuses. Everything that happens in my office isconfidential. However, you also understand that if any of the tests come back positive I have to report the STD to the Department of Public Health?"

"We know," Brian replies. "Can you push these tests through this weekend, Adam? We're leaving for L.A. next week and we'd like to know the resultsas soon as possible. Then we can get the check-up out there and I'll have my internist send you the follow-upreports."

Dr. Bernstein makes another note in one of the folders. "That would be fine. But I mean it, Brian -- don't let this happen again. And you be careful, too, Mr. Taylor. Good luck, gentlemen," he says and then goes out, shutting the door behind him.

I turn to Brian. "Why did you let him think that you gave it to me?" I demand. "Because that's fucked, Brian!"

"What's the difference?" Brian shrugs. "It's what he expected. I've had it before. I'm the Slut of Liberty Avenue." He smiles slowly. "Besides, I don't want some twink showing me up."

"It was wrong to let him think you were the one to blame!" I insist. But I don't add that I didn't do a hell of a lot to correct the doctor's misperception, either.

"Listen," says Brian, looking directly into my eyes. "We both have a responsibility here, but I'm older and I'm supposed to be wiser. Yeah, we both know the lie of that, but allow me to take the hit on this one. Next time, it's all yours, okay? So let's forget it and move on."

The nurse comes in and gives us each a shot in the ass. It hurts, but that pain will pass. And this whole ordeal will pass, too. But I can't help but compare the way Brian has handled this to Dylan's reaction. Marshall says Dylan simply denied everything and refused to admit that he might have infected anyone.

We put on our baseball caps and Brian slips on his sunglasses as we leave Dr. Bernstein's office. Brian still looks exactly like a rumpled, unshaven Brian Kinney in sunglasses and a baseball cap, but what the hell. He also looks completely beautiful to me. The most beautiful fucking thing in the world!

We step outside into the sunny May morning. Maybe it's psychological, but my throat doesn't ache anymore. I can breathe again. And I'm suddenly hungry. Really hungry.

Brian puts his arm around my shoulders as we walk back to the Jeep.

Actually, I'm feeling pretty damn good.

***

"Dragonflies out in the sun,
You know what I mean,
don't you know,
Butterflies all out having fun,
You know what I mean.
Sleep in peace
When the day is done,
And this old world
Is a new world
And a bold world
For me...

Stars when you shine,
You know how I feel.
Scent of the pine,
You know how I feel.
Yeah, freedom is mine,
And you know how I feel.
It's a new dawn,
It's a new day,
It's a new life,
It's a new dawn,
It's a new day,
It's a new life,
For me...

And I'm
Feeling good."

(Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse)

Continue on to "Magnet and Steel".

©Gaedhal, May 2006.

Posted May 8, 2006.