HANDLE WITH CARE

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter 18 of the "Queer Realities" series.

Go back to "Queer Theories" for the very beginning of this saga.

The narrators are Sylvia Schacter and Brian Kinney, featuring Dr. Henry Mason, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian settles into the routine and Sylvia observes. Springhurst, McKinley, NY, February 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.

"Been beat up and battered 'round.
Been sent up, and I've been shot down,
You're the best thing that I've ever found --
Handle me with care.

Reputations changeable,
Situations tolerable,
Baby, you're adorable --
Handle me with care...."

***

I call my cases, my patients, my 'changelings.' And my new changeling, Brian Kinney, seems to be settling into the routine here at Springhurst only grudgingly since he settled into his room after coming out of detox yesterday. I suppose that is to be expected after previous disastrous stays at other rehab facilities. Desert Palm has a good reputation, but he didn't remain there long enough to take advantage of what they have to offer. I see on his chart that he was also in the Spencer Pavilion last year. That place stinks, in my opinion. They use more powerful drugs on top of the drugs you're already on. But Spencer isn't a rehab center, anyway. It's an extremely expensive mental ward.

And Haven of Hope was absolutely the wrong place for a man like Brian Kinney. Haven is perfect for people who are looking for a cause or a belief system. That's why it's popular with Hollywood types who want to be force-fed a mantra or a religion or a philosophy that answers all their needs and questions. That's Haven -- it's like that Science Fiction movie from long ago. You either become one of the Pod People or you are eliminated.

I know what that's like. I've been in places like Haven of Hope. I've been in 12 Step, shock therapy, psychoanalysis, EST, Scientology, an Indian ashram, and the county jail. Every time I thought it would cure me of my addiction to pills and vodka. And every time I was wrong. So I can relate to Brian. He's been an addict, on and off, since he was 16 years old. My God, that's young! I've seen younger addicts. I've worked with younger addicts. But I had to stop. They rarely got better and I saw some of them die or go to prison. It was too depressing. One day I'll go back and try working with kids again. One day. When I can handle it.

I didn't get started on my own addictions until I was in college, but I made a lot of progress very quickly and was soon in way over my head with the booze. Yes, I see that Brian, my new changeling, has done his share of drinking, too. Both his parents were alcoholics, so he had some great role models. And he's also abused pills. Mainly Xanax. Not to mention heroin. Recreational cocaine, ketamine and ecstasy. And promiscuous sex. He's been a busy little boy. He's also very lucky he isn't dead or HIV+. This boy has an angel on his shoulder, whether he knows it or not.

Multiple addictions are a bitch. Because it means the person isn't simply in love with the drug, he's in love with the feeling that it gives him. Or the lack of feeling it gives him. The words that come up a few times in the notes on Brian are 'pain management.' That says it all. Trying to manage what he can't stand to feel. Trying to stop the pain.

That is very sad. Because if there ever was a man who seems to have been gifted with everything that life has to offer it's this man. He's handsome and intelligent and educated and rich and famous. He's also way too charming for his own good.

And he's also gay. That's a good thing -- at least for me. Because I find myself very attracted to him. I'm certain that's nothing new to Brian. His charisma and appeal to both sexes is what makes him a successful movie star. I had seen 'The Olympian' a few months ago when it was first released, but I went back and saw it again after Julius told me that I'd been assigned what he refers to flippantly as "Our Star." I thought the film was good the first time, but I was so shocked by the male sex scenes that I think it threw me. This time I went to watch Brian.

His intensity was amazing. And his impact on the screen. His sex appeal. His vulnerability. I adore Jimmy Hardy and I've seen all of his pictures, but, frankly, Brian acted him off the screen in 'The Olympian.' So I didn't know what to expect when I finally met Brian Kinney. I envisioned a struggle with an egotistical, difficult man who had already been flagged as a "problem patient."

What I saw surprised me. Not a cocky and arrogant 'movie star.' Not at all. Instead, I saw a very troubled man. Scared, but pretending not to be. I saw another addict who had no idea what the future held for him. And I can deal with that. I've been there. We're two of a kind. And I know I can help him.

***

The fucking phone next to my bed rings and knocks me out of a hot dream. I had Justin on his back, with his legs thrown back behind his ears and I was eating his ass like it was my last fucking meal. He was mewing like a cat and his pink balls were bouncing against my nose the entire time. I was trying to make him come just by rimming him. And then, just as he was about to unload....

RING! RING!

"What the fuck?" I rasp into the receiver.

A recorded female voice says, "Good morning. This is your wake-up call. Breakfast is being served in the dining room. Your schedule for today is in the basket next to your door. Don't forget to check your mailbox. Have a nice day."

Wake-up call, huh? I guess it's better than Skip barging into the room and rolling you out of bed.

I sit up and look around. I'm out of the detox unit and in my own room. As hotel rooms go it's not plush, but compared to Haven it's the Plaza. The double bed is a little soft, but it's not too bad. And I have my own bathroom. My own clothes to wear. I don't have to trudge down the hall to shower in a cement room like I'm in prison. I take advantage of that fact by taking a long, hot one and jerking off in peace. As I dry off I actually start to feel like I'm alive again.

I get dressed in a clean pair of jeans and one of the Paul Smith shirts that isn't too wrinkled from being folded up in that suitcase for weeks. I've got to find out where to do the wash and whether they have a fucking iron and ironing board. If not, I'll have to tell Justin to bring mine up here. I don't mind looking like a derelict if I don't have anything better to wear, but not when I have two suitcases full of decent clothes. Everyone at Haven of Hell looked like they were one step up from Skid Row, but the people I saw here on the little tour my new counselor took me on last night are clean and well-dressed, so I don't want to look like a bum.

Schedule. The phone said something about a schedule. I open the door of my room and there's a wire basket on the wall. It's filled with sheets of paper. Most of it is information about Springhurst. A map of the complex. Another map of McKinley, the town. Phone extensions of the staff members. And my personal schedule. Telling me when my Group meets and where. When my appointments with Gorowitz are for the coming week. Also where and when I have to report for my drug tests.

Everything here is so fucking organized. It's like a classy resort. Or like a real business. People seem to have things figured out. That makes me feel less anxious. Business is something I can relate to. Schedules are something I can understand. It's like being at Ryder again. Meetings. Lunches. Clients. Security.

I fold up my schedule and stuff it into my back pocket. My stomach tells me that regular meals might be a good thing for me -- at least for the time being. So I look for the dining room.

***

I find Brian in the dining room. He's sitting by himself at a table next to the window. Everyone in the room keeps glancing over at him, discussing him quietly. We've had celebrities here before, including a well-know writer and a former congressman, but never one of the caliber of Brian Kinney. Never a real movie star.

But Brian is oblivious to their looks and comments. Or else he's so used to it that he tunes it all out. I wonder what it feels like to be the object of so much attention and yet be so alone?

"Brian," I say cheerfully. "I'm glad to see you eating."

He peers up at me with tired, but clear eyes. "After detox I was fucking starving to death," he sniffs. He's made a fairly large dent in a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns. He's a tall man, but he's also way too thin. I know that people in the movies and on television have to be slender, but not THIS slender. On screen Brian looks very strong and solid. In 'The Olympian' he was playing an athlete and his arms and legs looked so muscular. But when I see him up close he's actually delicate-looking. His wrists. His long neck. The sharpness of his chin. And his beautiful hands.

I sit down opposite him at the table. "Did you look over your schedule, Brian?"

He lays down his fork and sighs. "Do I have to go to Group? It's a fucking waste of time!"

"Why do you say that? Because you had a bad experience at Haven?" I ask him.

"Because I can't stand the thought of a bunch of strangers sitting around and passing judgment on my life!" he says.

"Is that what it felt like at Haven?"

"Not what it felt like," Brian insists. "What it WAS! They should call it Group Brainwashing instead of Group Therapy. Every minute was fucking torture!" He takes a sip of his juice. I notice that he can barely keep his hands steady. It could be the residual effects of detox or sheer anxiety. I'll have to make a note to suggest to Dr. Mason that Brian learn some relaxation techniques to help him deal with his anxiety without relying on drugs. That may have been where his Xanax abuse originated.

"Torture because you didn't want to open up? Or because you didn't want to hear what others had to say? Because Group is meant to be a helping experience. You learn that you aren't alone."

His face sets into a pout. "That's what they say, but it's really just another way of using peer pressure to force you into some kind of fucking 'group think.' Well, I don't care for groups. I already know that the majority of society views me as abnormal -- and that's the way I like it! I don't want to become some kind of fucking straight, middle class clone!" His voice is rising, but he stops, glances around, and then lowers it. "That's the real purpose of group therapy. To turn you into another sheep so you'll fit into the goddamn flock."

I shake my head. It looks like Brian's stay at Haven is going to have to be counter-acted before he's going to trust anything we do here. "You may find that we have a different way of doing things at Springhurst, Brian. Wouldn't it help you to at least find out what our group therapy program is like? Then you can compare and contrast? Think of it as an intellectual exercise."

He shrugs. "Maybe. What about the drug testing thing?"

"I explained that to you a little bit last night when I was showing you around. But this is your personal schedule." I point to his schedule sheet. "We usually test everyone weekly, except if you are cleared to leave the property for the afternoon or evening. Then we test you the next morning. That's just in case there was a slip-up while you were outside."

"And if your piss turns out to be dirty?" he asks, staring at me. His eyes are like a cat's -- green, suspicious, and knowing.

"Then we know that something is definitely not working," I reply.

He snorts. "No time in the slammer? No lock-up in detox?"

"You already know that we don't have a 'lock-up' here, Brian. If someone needs to go into detox, then they go. But it isn't a punishment. It's meant to get you straightened out."

Now he laughs. "Haven of Happiness tried THAT, too! But I'm still a big fucking fag!"

"Of course you are," I say. I lean towards him. "I know you won't believe this, but Dr. Gorowitz, Dr. Mason, and everyone else here at Springhurst, including me, have no desire to turn you into a happy heterosexual. I understand that Haven of Hope has a... a different way of thinking...."

"Yeah!" he interrupts. "They were a pack of fucking homophobes! And they made no bones about it! Well, fuck THAT! That's one of the reasons I left. You... you can't imagine some of the things they said to me. Some of the things they... they said about other people. People who are close to me." He stares into the distance. "I don't mind someone taking a shot at me, but not at someone who has never done anyone any harm. Someone who's been damaged himself. There's no excuse for that kind of shit!"

"I agree, Brian. And you won't find that attitude here."

"So YOU say," he retorts. "You weren't there. You didn't hear what they said!"

Brian is seething with hostility all of a sudden. I know that he's thinking of his partner. I read Brian's file and there were a number of print-outs from the internet about this young man, Justin Taylor. He was brutally assaulted by a classmate a couple of years ago at his senior prom and almost killed. Brian was with him at the time, but couldn't stop the attack. Brian must have intense feelings of guilt about that. And a strong protective response where Justin is concerned. If his counselor or other members of his Group chose to criticize his relationship with this young man or said anything derisive about him, I can see Brian flying to his defense -- and holding a deep grudge afterwards.

"I think I've had enough," Brian says, standing up abruptly.

He startles me. "Brian, I didn't mean to interrupt your breakfast. I'll go away and let you finish."

"No, I was through anyway," he insists.

Brian looks up as someone comes into the dining room. It's Dr. Mason. Brian immediately alerts, his eyes like lasers, following Henry as he gets a cup of coffee. When I was a kid we used to have a dog that was part pointer and he'd tense up like that every time he saw a bird. Like he saw something that he had to have and was just about to spring at it. I can almost feel the sexual tension radiating off of this very physical man.

But Henry walks out again, coffee cup in hand, without looking our way. Brian lets out a puff of breath, as if his prey has escaped. He stands there, looking forlorn.

"I have no fucking idea where I'm supposed to go now or what I'm supposed to do," he says.

"Don't worry, Brian." I so want to pat him on the head and tell him it will be all right. "It'll come to you."

***

There's a ton of mail in my box, most of it forwarded from Haven, so it's well over a week old. But there is also a new letter from Justin, and others from Tess, Lindsay, Deb, Tim, and a comic book from Michael. And more postcards from Jimmy, all wanting to know where I am and when I'm going to start answering my cellphone.

I save the letters for later, when I'm in my room by myself, and then check my e-mail. I feel like I'm doing something forbidden -- contacting the outside world. That was a fucking crime at Haven. Here it's just routine.

Two other patients -- both female -- come in to use the computers. Patient? Inmates? Addicts? Fuck-ups? I'm not sure what we're supposed to call ourselves here. At Haven everyone was an 'addict' -- they reminded you of that about 50 times a day, but I get the impression that they don't hold the same philosophy here at Springhurst. One of the women glances at me blankly and then stares at the computer screen, while the other eyes me with a lot more interest. I'm not sure if it's because she recognizes me or because I'm one of the few young and fuckworthy men in here. I should probably make it clear that I'm queer right away, but with some women that doesn't seem to make any difference. It might even be a challenge.

I keep my eyes on my own computer. Leslie e-mailed me that Ron was nominated posthumously for a Writers' Guild Award for the screenplay of 'The Olympian.' He deserves to win, but who knows if he will? Fucking Hollywood and the fucking homophobic establishment. And I include fake fags like Howie Sheldon in that, too. He's as bad as any straight, uptight studio executive. Worse, really. Well, Howie can rest easy. I'm safely corralled here in rehab so I won't do anything embarrassing to him or his studio. Except make him a lot of money -- definitely. And win him a few awards -- maybe. We'll see about that. Yeah, we'll see.

I e-mail Mikey and thank him for coming up here with Justin and Ben. Then I apologize to him for having had to do it. I'm a long fucking way from the days when I never apologized to anyone for anything. Now I seem to be doing it all the time.

Then I e-mail Dorian. I've decided to let him know that I'm here. He's one person who won't come swooping down on me while I'm trying to get my shit together -- hear THAT, Jimmy? But he's also someone who deserves to know what the fuck is going on with me. Leslie also e-mailed me that it was just announced that Dorian has taken over as the director of 'Red River,' so I need to congratulate him. It's a big fucking deal for his career. Dorian Folco directing Clint Eastwood! When Ron was finalizing the film deal he told me that now he'd be playing with the Big Boys, since Eastwood is such a fucking film icon. Yes, even bigger than Jimmy.

Dorian also needs to know that it's possible that one of his stars might be in rehab until just before the picture begins to shoot. I also want to give him an out in case he needs one. If he wants to recast and not take the chance of using me, I want him to know that there will be no hard feelings. He's got to do what's best for the picture. It'll be his second Hollywood film -- he's shooting that romantic comedy with Jude Law up in Vancouver right now -- and I don't want him to get screwed. Hey, Clint Eastwood doesn't wait around while his dubious co-star gets clean. That's the privilege of superstardom. And I don't want Dorian to pull out of the picture because of some misplaced loyalty to me. That's bullshit.

Finally, I e-mail Justin. Something short and pornographic. I'll be talking to him later tonight, so I don't need to be too specific. Let the lad use his extremely accomplished imagination.

I waste a lot of time in the computer room, just surfing around the web. I check out the Brian Kinney websites just for laughs. These women are fucking crazy! There are pictures of me all over the site. Pictures of Justin, too. A lot of pictures of us together. There are even fan pictures there. Pictures of me posing with the fans at the premieres and after parties. Posing on the street. Outside of restaurants. And there is a damn picture that someone took at that rest stop outside of Erie where we stopped on the up way here! Shit! I really DO look stoned!

I sit in front of the computer for another half-hour as the morning ticks by. I admit that I don't particularly want to go back out into the general hustle and bustle. I'm afraid that Sylvia will grab me and start introducing me to people, like some kind of fucking cruise director. She told me that she wants me to 'integrate' into the population and especially to get to know the members of my Group. Fat fucking chance! I stay in front of the screen until lunch is almost over, then I slink into the dining room and eat a salad. I really could use a protein shake or something like that. I have to make a note to ask Justin to bring some powder and maybe even a selection of my juices with him when he comes. I'm sure they'll make the shakes up for me if I ask them to. It's not like at Haven where the Rule was "no exceptions for anyone, for any reason."

I finish eating and then go to the gym for about an hour. I am so fucking out of shape it isn't funny! I could probably use another hour in here, but I don't want to kill myself. The equipment isn't too bad. Nothing like at a top-notch health club, but good enough for what I need to do right now. Which is mainly to build my strength back up after that soul-draining stint at Haven. I'm huffing and puffing like crazy after 15 minutes and I'm sweating, too, but it's good sweat. The only problem is that working out always makes me horny.

I head back to my room and the shower -- and another jerk-off session. I think about calling Justin, but it's a Saturday afternoon. He's probably either out of the loft or working in his studio. Besides, I'll call him tonight. Anticipation is a good thing. Instant gratification -- not so good, at least not for me. In fact, the lust for instant self-gratification is one of my major problems. I admit it, but I also have to keep it in mind constantly. I have to look at the fucking long term goal and not the immediate sensation. Yeah, keep repeating that to yourself, Kinney. Long term goals --long term goals.

***

"Brian?"

I knock on his door and wait for him to tell me to come in. Then I push the door open. It isn't locked. Most people don't lock their doors here at Springhurst. There is a secure drawer in the dresser in each room in case guests want to lock up cash or jewelry, but stealing has never been a problem as long as I've been here. Privacy, on the other hand, is a different story. I can tell that Brian likes his privacy, so I don't want to just barge into his room.

It seems that he was taking a nap. He's lying on the bed in his underwear. I wasn't expecting that. I've never seen such -- um - interesting underwear before. It must be a gay thing, because most of the men I've been with wore baggy white shorts and baggy white tee shirts. But Brian is wearing some kind of tight black sleeveless tee shirt and black bikini underpants that leave little to the imagination.

He doesn't seem too bothered, however. Maybe he likes showing himself off. Because he has plenty to show off!

"Excuse me, Brian, but it's almost time for dinner and I thought I'd walk you over."

He sits up and yawns. "I think I can find the dining room again. But thanks for thinking of me." He reaches over towards the bed table and then stops. "I keep forgetting. No cigarettes."

"You can have cigarettes, Brian, but you can only smoke them in the designated areas outside," I remind him.

"I know. I'm trying to fucking quit. I really am. It's only force of habit to keep reaching for them." He smiles. "You know how it is -- when you wake up, after you eat, after a good fuck. You just want a cigarette."

"I know what you mean," I answer. "I used to smoke like a chimney!"

He gets off the bed and stretches like a long, dark cat. "I guess there's no way you are NOT going to escort me to dinner, huh?"

"I want to introduce you to some of the members of your group," I tell him.

"I was fucking afraid you were going to say that." He picks up his jeans from the chair and pulls them on. They are those jeans that button up the front instead of zip. But he doesn't button them all the way up. On purpose, I assume. It's... disconcerting. And also incredibly sexy. Maybe that's why he does it.

I notice a photograph in a gold frame on the bed table. I pick it up and gaze at it. "Is this your partner?"

He looks up sharply and frowns. He reaches out, like he wants to snatch the photo out of my hands, but then he pauses. "That's Justin. They only let me have one picture when I was at Haven. I'd brought pictures of my son and his mother, Lindsay, and my friend Michael. Other photos, too, but they made me pick out one." He still looks angry thinking about it. "That's the one."

Justin Taylor. I've read quite a lot about him in Brian's rather thick file. That's what comes of being famous. There are a lot of clippings about your life. And about your partner's life, too. I have never met this young man, but I know that Justin was almost killed at his prom. And I also know that he and Brian were caught by some -- um -- revealing photos that were published in the tabloids. I know that he's also a very talented artist. And he's certainly an extremely handsome young man, but in a completely different way from Brian. Justin is all golden youth, while Brian is all shadowy experience. Altogether too much experience for his own good.

But I'm shocked by how young Justin looks. Brian's file states that his partner is 20 years old, but in this picture he looks about 15. It's almost like a still from a male version of 'Playboy.' I know there must be such things. Not exactly a porno picture, but definitely a pin-up. Justin is shirtless on a bed and looking at the camera with a 'come hither' look, showing himself off. Again, it's disconcerting. And this boy -- no, this young man -- is coming here next weekend.

I don't think all that much about the sexual lives of the people I counsel. Yes, it comes up in Group and some of my changelings have had trouble with sexual acting out, but Brian and his partner seem to be in a different category somehow. They are like creatures from an utterly separate world, a much more openly sexual world. They don't hide what other people are afraid to show -- their sexual being. I've counseled gay patients before. Not many men, but quite a number of lesbians who have come here for treatment. Springhurst insists on a non-homophobic atmosphere, which is unlike many other rehab centers. Obviously, Haven of Hope didn't have that philosophy. Dr. Gorowitz won't tolerate any counselors -- or guests -- who are hostile towards gays. But Brian -- it isn't a matter of tolerating him. His sexuality is in-your-face and I'm not certain how the other members of his Group will react to that kind of attitude.

"Justin is very -- um -- good-looking," I say lamely.

Brian is holding his breath. I hand the picture back to him and he exhales, almost in relief. He strokes the frame absently and stares at the image. I don't think Brian is even aware that he's doing it.

"He's not just good-looking!" Brian states ardently. "He's beautiful. Perfect. Wait until you see him in person. He fucking glows in the dark!"

"I bet he does, Brian," I say.

Suddenly I'm afraid for my new changeling. Afraid for his vulnerable state and his unprotected emotions. I notice that Brian is wearing a small necklace, a red hearton a delicate gold chain. It looks like something that could besnapped so easily by a single thoughtless gesture. And nowI hold my own breath. Because that beautiful, seductive boy looks like the kind who could easily break his damaged heart.

***

"Been stuck in airports, terrorized,
Sent to meetings, hypnotized,
Overexposed, commercialized --
Handle me with care.

I'm so tired of being lonely,
I still have some love to give,
Won't you show me that you really care?

Everybody's got somebody to lean on.
Put your body next to mine, and dream on.

I've been uptight and made a mess,
But I'll clean it up myself, I guess --
Oh, the sweet smell of success --
Handle me with care."

"Handle With Care" by George Harrison.

Continue on to "No Matter What".

©Gaedhal, June 2004.

Posted June 12, 2004.