HEART-TO-HEART

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter 53 of the "Queer Realities" series.

The narrators are Tim Reilly and Emmett Honeycutt, and features Michael Novotny, Justin Taylor, Dylan Burke, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Offering help isn't always easy. Pittsburgh. April, 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.

"When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around,
Heaven opens a magic lane.
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There's a rainbow highway to be found,
Leading from your windowpane
To a place behind the sun,
Just a step beyond the rain...."

***

I'm expecting Justin to stop by at the end of the day. Hoping that he will.

He's been coming over almost every day after his classes since he showed up in my office nearly two weeks ago. He usually sits and talks for about a half hour, sometimes more. And this young man badly needs someone to talk to. He won't talk to Brian about what he's feeling, and he doesn't seem to want to confide in his best friend Daphne or any of his male friends. I can't say that I blame him for that. I love Emmett Honeycutt dearly, but I don't think he's the person Justin should be unburdening himself to.

But for that matter, neither am I.

Justin needs to discuss his problems with a real therapist, someone who is well-versed in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and who can help him come to grips with the feelings he still hasn't processed from his bashing. That was almost exactly two years ago and Justin is still denying that he's suffering any after effects. Still denying the choices he's making -- damaging choices, to my mind -- and that some of the other activities he's been engaging in are at least partially in reaction to the bashing.

And that isn't even factoring in being sexually assaulted by his friend at that party. I know that is at the heart of why Justin has been acting out recently. He admitted as much to me right after it happened, but he has steadfastly refused to get counseling. He admitted to me that he was drunk and high, and didn't want to have sex. But the moment I said the word 'rape' he shut right down. But that's what it was. I don't care that he continued to have sex with this man afterwards. That makes no difference. Justin was drugged and he was forced against his will. But Justin still refuses to acknowledge that what happened to him is rape.

Just as Brian refuses to acknowledge so many awful things that have happened to him. So many damaging, hurtful things.

I have my own guilt about some of them. I did my part in damaging Brian and in making him the closed-off, self-defeating person he's become. That's something for which I'll have to repent for the rest of my life. I ask God's forgiveness for it every day -- and I've also asked Brian's forgiveness. But Brian simply brushes it off like it doesn't matter. He always brushes off anything that touches those painful areas. But I know that even after fifteen years the wounds are still fresh inside him. And that haunts me.

Perhaps that's why I feel the need to help Justin get the counseling he so badly needs. It's one small way of atoning to Brian. My guilt at work again. "It's always about you, isn't it, Tim?" That's what Brian would say, in his cynical, but incisive way. Yes, it is all about me, Brian. About the condition of my own soul. I don't know how to do it any other way.

I hear the knock at the door and glance at my watch. Justin is early this afternoon.

But it isn't Justin.

"Hi, Tim," says Michael. He stands awkwardly at the door, shifting from foot to foot, almost as if he's ready to run away.

"Michael, I didn't expect to see you here," I tell him. I don't think Michael has ever been down here to the AIDS Outreach Center. I don't blame him. Most people don't come here unless they have a reason. Not unless they are diagnosed or someone they love is dealing with being positive. Or unless they are looking for counseling. Or hospice care.

"Yeah, well, I was passing by, so...." Michael wants to come into my office, but it's like there's a barrier he can't cross. So I stand up, take him by the hand, and sit him down in the chair. Then I close the door.

"What can I do for you, Michael?" I have no idea why he's here. The only thing I can think of is that this has something to do with Ben, his former boyfriend. I know that Ben is positive and has been for a number of years. But he and Michael are no longer in a relationship -- I thought.

"I... I was just thinking," says Michael, hesitantly. "Vic stopped over last night when I was at Ma's and he said something about you counseling people. I know you talk to Poz guys and their families, but Vic was telling Ma that you were also talking to... to other guys. About their problems."

I sit up in my chair. I've talked to Vic very generally about the work I do, but I've never discussed any of my clients with him. Can Michael want to talk to me about Justin? But I've never told Vic that Justin is coming to see me. I've never told anyone. That would be a betrayal of confidence. Unless Justin has said something himself to Vic. Or to Michael. But I can't imagine that. In fact, Justin has quite a bit of animosity towards Michael. He's made that very clear to me.

"What problems do you mean, Michael?" I ask carefully.

He takes a deep breath. "Personal stuff. Like... relationships. Stuff that's going all around in my head and bothering me. Confusing me."

"It sounds to me like you need a regular therapist, Michael," I tell him. "AIDS Outreach is for people dealing with HIV and AIDS. It's not for relationship counseling." Even as I say this I feel uneasy because Michael is obviously reaching out to me and I don't want to push him away. "Unless this is about Ben? When you were seeing him you never really talked to me about the fact that he was positive and you were negative even though I know it was a difficulty in your relationship -- especially where your mother was concerned."

"I know," admits Michael. "Ma hated it at first. She was afraid for me and didn't want me and Ben to be together. She was too afraid I'd... I'd get it." Michael shakes his head slowing. "But I didn't get it. And that's all in the past now. I guess."

"So you and Ben aren't together at all?" I ask. "Not even as friends?"

"Not really," he says. But his face tells me that he wishes they were still together. In counseling people so often say one thing while their faces tell me a completely different story. They tell me how they are not afraid when their expression is one of terror. Or they tell me how happy they are when their eyes shout that they are miserable. And I think of Justin's very visible misery, even while he keeps insisting that everything is fine.

"What's the trouble, Michael?"

"I've moved in with David," he says. "I haven't told a lot of people yet because I know some people won't like it. Because they don't like David."

"Some people?" I say. "Some people like Brian?"

Michael nods. "I've already told Brian. And he reacted exactly the way I thought he would. He hates it. He hates David and thinks he's a control freak who only wants to run my life and make me into the Happy Homemaker."

"Do you care what Brian thinks, Michael?" I already know the answer, but I want to hear Michael say it. "Is his opinion that important to you?"

"Yes," he says quietly. "It is important to me. Because Brian is important to me. And what Brian thinks makes a difference to me. At one time it... it would have been all that mattered. Whatever Brian said, I'd do. If Brian said 'Jump!' I'd say, 'How high?' But I can't live that way any more. Brian's life and my life... they're two different things."

"And that makes you sad?"

"Sort of," says Michael. "I accepted a long time ago that me and Brian... that we'd never be together in the way I've wanted since I was in junior high. Justin coming along was... was the last straw. And then fucking Ron!" Michael's face grows dark. "And then... everything. I knew it in my head, but it took longer for my heart to admit it."

"And now your heart knows?" I say.

"Yeah," says Michael. "I don't even know if Brian and I are still best friends, let alone anything more. But I'm 32 years old, Tim. I want my own life! And David wants to give that life to me. My own home and money to do things. A family. Being somebody!"

"You are somebody, Michael," I remind him. "You're the owner of your own business. You're a son. A friend. You don't need another man, whether it's Brian or David or even Ben, to define you. You need to define yourself."

He sits silently for a minute or so before he speaks. "I went up to see Brian yesterday in rehab. I can tell you that, Tim, because you know where he is. It's his birthday on Thursday and I brought him a present. A copy of the prototype for my new "Rage" comic."

I know that Michael has been working on that comic for a long time. It's very important to him. It's his dream to create his own gay superhero. "I'm sure Brian was pleased to see it, Michael."

Michael nods. "He was. He was the inspiration for it, after all. Brian's been the inspiration for so many things in my life." He pauses and takes a deep breath. "I was going to stay overnight, but... I ended up only staying a little while. I made some stupid excuse and left. There were so many things I wanted to say to Brian. Things I wanted to tell him. But... but I couldn't. Not without hurting him. Not without making him hate me in the end. So I left. And now he probably hates me even more."

"I'm sure that isn't true, Michael," I reassure him.

But Michael only shakes his head sadly. "It is true. And I hate it, Tim. I really love Brian -- I always have and I always will. But I know he'll never, ever love me that way. It's a stupid fantasy. Like having a crush on... on Patrick Swayze or Harrison Ford. It isn't real. And it'll never be real." He pauses again, rubbing at his eyes. "And I love Ben, too. I hurt inside every time I see him. But I don't think we can ever work things out. There are too many problems coming between us. Not just the HIV issue or the fact that he cheated on me with that fucking Ron Rosenblum. Ben is too... too judgmental about certain things."

"Ben? Judgmental?" This doesn't sound like the Ben I know at all. It sounds much more like what I've heard about the rigid and authoritarian David Cameron.

Michael winces. "Maybe judgmental isn't the right word. Ben and I had been seeing each other and talking about getting back together. But then we had an argument about something. About another person. I can't go into it with you, but we couldn't agree about something this person did to a good friend of mine. Something really shitty and horrible. Ben said it wasn't my business and that I shouldn't get involved. The fight we had was... it was bad, Tim. We said a lot of rotten things to each other. And afterwards I called David."

"It sounds as if you ran to David in response to your argument with Ben," I point out. "Is that the best way to establish a relationship? To run to one man only because you're angry at the other?"

"I know it's fucked up, Tim," Michael says, his face mournful. "But I'm tired of bouncing around emotionally. Tired of feeling alone. I feel secure with David. I know what to expect from him. With Ben there are too many questions. Not just his HIV status, but his personality, too. He always acts so superior. I know he's a lot smarter than me, but with Ben I really feel that he knows how much smarter he is." Michael sighs. "All the men I fall in love with are dominating guys -- every one of them. I know that. I'm not a leader and never have been. I'm a follower and I like strong guys who'll tell me what to do. That might be fucked up, but it's true. Brian is an impossibility. And Ben is too difficult. So that leaves David."

"Meaning that you are settling for what's easy?" I ask. "Or what seems easy at this time?"

"It isn't that I don't love David!" Michael exclaims. "Because I do. I really do. It's just that... that I'm not IN love with him the way I used to be with Brian. Or even with Ben. But David loves me. He wants to take care of me. And that's what I want right now. That's what I need. Someone to take care of me. Someone to be in love with me."

There's a knock at the door.

"One moment, Michael," I say, getting up. I open the door a crack and see Justin standing there. Michael and Justin are like oil and water right now, so I go out into the hall and ask Justin to wait by the reception desk for a few moments. He hesitates, like he's thinking of leaving, but then he says okay and walks back down the hallway.

I go back into my office and Michael is standing there, right next to the door.

"That was Justin, wasn't it?" he interrogates me sharply. "What's he doing here?"

I take a deep breath. This is none of Michael's business, but how can I tell him that without getting into an argument with him?

"I counsel a lot of people, Michael," I say. "Please understand that anyone who sees me comes here in confidence -- and that includes you."

But Michael's face darkens. "I can't believe you're helping that little slut! I thought you had feelings for Brian -- but you'd waste your time talking to HIM? After what he did to Brian? After he... he cheated on him? Kicked Brian in the teeth? After everything Brian's done for him! I can't fucking believe it, Tim!"

"This has nothing to do with you, Michael," I reply firmly. "I think you had better leave now."

"Sure!" Michael lashes out at me. "I'm going! It's nice to see where your priorities are, Tim. Is Justin letting you have a piece of him, too? Is that why you're being nice to him? Well, join the club! Or should I say, stand in line!"

I recoil at Michael's intense fury. "That's completely uncalled for, Michael. Your anger has nothing to do with me -- or even with Justin. You need to get your own house in order before you begin making judgments about other people. I thought that's one of the things that was bothering you about Ben? That you felt he was judging you for something?" Then it dawns on me. "It was about Justin, wasn't it? You and Ben were arguing about Justin. Is that it?"

"Fuck off, Tim," Michael says. "I don't know why Justin would come to you, of all people. Why he'd trust you. You fucked Brian over when he was a kid. I know you did, so don't deny it! You pretend you're better than the rest of us, Father Tim! The ex-priest! The compassionate guy! The caring AIDS counselor! The...." Then Michael stops, his eyes widening. "That's why, isn't it? Justin is positive! He's been getting gang-banged in the backroom of Babylon, so why not other places? He probably caught it from someone he was fucking around with! Why should he give a shit about using a condom, right?"

"No, Michael, you're very wrong!" I tell him firmly. "And don't repeat a rumor like that to anyone! It could be very damaging to Justin. He's extremely vulnerable right now."

But Michael isn't listening to me at all. "If he infected Brian, I'll fucking kill him! I will! I don't care what happens to me!"

"Michael, you should leave now." I open the door to my office. "Go home and calm down. Think about what you're saying -- and then stop it!"

But Justin is there, right outside my door. Michael stops short as they stand face to face. "Michael! What are you doing here?" Justin blurts.

"Get away from me!" Michael shouts. "You make me sick to my stomach! Go back to the backroom where you belong!" Then he pushes past Justin and almost runs down the hallway to the exit.

Justin turns to me, his face deadly pale. "You told him! How could you do that? You promised me that everything I said to you was confidential!"

"No, Justin!" I insist. "I didn't tell him anything. We weren't talking about you at all. Michael came here to discuss some personal things with me."

"I don't believe you, Tim," he says, backing away. "You've probably told Vic and Debbie and everyone! Told them all the things I confided to you! I knew I couldn't trust you! I can't trust anyone! No one!"

Justin turns and heads down the hall to leave. But I run and catch up with him.

"Justin, you have to believe me." I clutch at his elbow to make him stop and listen to me. "I haven't betrayed you. Michael being here was a coincidence. I wasn't expecting him today. He just showed up to talk."

But Justin is implacable. "You didn't think we'd run into each other, did you? I get it, Tim. Sorry if I walked in at the wrong time. Dylan was right. You people are all against me! I can't trust anyone."

"Please, Justin," I plead. "Don't turn your back on me. You need to get therapy. You know that. This Dylan -- he's manipulating you! He's the one who raped you, for God's sake! He's the last person you should be taking advice from!"

"But I should be taking advice from you? After the way you used Brian when he needed help?" Justin's face is cold. "Fuck that! I should have known this was the wrong thing to do! And fuck your therapy, too! I don't need it! I don't need anyone!"

And Justin jerks out of my grasp and goes out the door, slamming it behind him.

***

Babylon, sweet Babylon!

Thumpa, thumpa, thumpa!

The music. The lights. The men.

Except that I'm standing here alone.

Seems I'm here by myself more than anything else lately. And that's sad.

It's not like in the old days. Back then I'd be right in this same spot, leaning against the bar with Michael on one side and Teddy on the other, drinking whatever was the special of the night, singing along to old disco divas, and watching Brian drag his latest trick off into the backroom. Good times!

But now Michael is at home, playing the part of the dutiful wife with Dr. Dreamboat. He seems happy. Sort of. Maybe David isn't quite the dreamboat we all thought he was -- well, all of us except Brian, of course, who hated David from the start. But if Michael wants to settle down, then Dr. Dave is a good catch. He's rich and successful and has a ready-made family. Classic husband material. Which is what Michael seems to want. At least I think that's what he wants.

Teddy was here earlier, but he left with some of his new friends. Or his so-called friends. I don't like those people. Crystal queens. Tweakers. I've warned him to stay away from them, but Ted refuses to listen to me. Who listens to me, anyway? I'm only a white trash queen from Hazelhurst, Mississippi and that's the truth. So what the heck do I know?

Brian, our own Hollywood Star, is off somewhere doing whatever Hollywood Stars do. Drinking, drugging, and fucking the famous. Hobnobbing with a lot of big names. Indulging in every fantasy he's ever had. Must be nice. It couldn't happen to a more arrogant asshole. And I say that as one of Brian's oldest and dearest friend. Or whatever the fuck I am.

But it makes me wonder if Brian ever thinks about his little blond boyfriend back here in the Pitts. Or, rather, his ex-boyfriend. Probably not. Why should Mr. Kinney care? He's out in Hollywood getting his needs met. And poor Justin -- the boy wouldn't be doing what he's been doing if he and Brian hadn't had a big, nasty breakup that Justin refuses to talk about. It's pretty clear that's what happened. Justin doesn't even need to tell anyone about it because the reality of it is written all over his face every time someone mentions Brian's name.

It's the same old story with those two. Make up and break up and then start the cycle over again. But this time it really looks like the end. What was it Brian used to call hitting yourself over the head with sex and drugs until you're numb? Pain management, that's it. And Justin is neck-deep in pain management.

In fact, he's in the backroom this very moment.

I never thought I'd see the day when Justin Taylor would be everybody's slut. I always thought that Brian had that title of 'Whore of Babylon' sewn up for the next century, but Justin is making a game attempt. I guess if you live long enough you'll see everything.

I notice a young guy standing glumly at the bar. He's fairly new on the scene, but he's been hanging around Woody's and Babylon a lot lately. Right now he's drinking the cheapest whiskey they sell at Babylon. Must be all he can afford.

He's a dark, sullen beauty, that's for sure. Reminds me a bit of Brian when he was younger. And he's acting a lot like Brian, too, in the way he gets drunk. Dylan is his name. I believe that he and Justin have been doing the nasty behind Brian's back. That's what everyone is saying, so it must be true.

Right now Dylan is downing his shots with Brian-like zeal. Poor boy. Seems he's pining for the little blond. But Justin isn't communicating with anyone lately, apparently not even with his backstreet boy. Michael has been ripping Justin up and down Liberty Avenue, but he's not the only one. Gossip, gossip, gossip. People love it when the mighty have fallen.

And that makes me very depressed. It seems that all of my friends are in trouble these days. A lot of the time I feel fucking helpless, that's for sure. Like this situation with Ted. I've tried to talk some sense into him so many times, but it's like bitching at a brick wall, and that we all know how well that works! Now Ted's gone away with his new friends. Fucking tweakers. I don't fit in with that crowd, thank God. I had a short flirtation with Lady Crystal in my wayward youth and I don't wish to repeat the experience. So Teddy and I... are we even still friends? It doesn't seem so.

And Justin... he used to confide everything to me. Or so I thought. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was fooling myself. I thought I knew that boy. Seems I didn't know him at all, either.

I finish my drink and stare at the dance floor. Thumpa, thumpa, thumpa. It never ends.

I glance at Dylan, downing shots and feeling sorry for himself. He's a useless fuck. If he had any balls at all he'd go into the backroom and drag Justin out by his long blond hair. But he doesn't. Pussy boy.

I decide to order another Cosmo. But then I don't. Because I may be a big nelly bottom, but I'm not a pussy boy.

I walk across the dance floor, elbowing the guys aside to get to the backroom. The smell of sweat and poppers and weed hits me in the face. It's dim in there and I have to squint to see. But I find Justin in a moment. One guy is holding a vial up to his nose to give him a rush, while another guy slams his ass. They are laughing, but Justin looks pale and miserable. His eyes are clenched shut and he's trembling with every thrust.

That's all I need to see.

"All right!" I say in my butchest voice. "That's enough!"

The two guys seem confused, but they step back. "You wanna party, Fetch?" says the guy with the poppers.

"I want you two to get lost. Now!" I wait while they stand there gaping at me. The second guy pulls out of Justin and rips the condom off his dick, dropping it on the dirty floor. Then they move away. Fetch Dixon has spoken! I don't use my minor celebrity status very often, but right now it works just fine.

"Pull up your pants, honey," I say to Justin. "You're getting the fuck out of here."

"Leave me alone, Emmett," he whispers, hiding his face against the rough wall.

"You're coming with me!" I order. And he does it. He obeys me, to my surprise. I pull him out of the backroom and he stumbles along, sniffling. His nose is running and his eyes are red. I get him to the bar and take out a handkerchief. Rhett Butler once said that Scarlett never had a handkerchief when she needed one, but I always do. I wipe Justin's nose and make him blow hard. That always makes me feel better.

"Thanks, Em," Justin says softly. "But you can't help me. I've tried -- and no one can help me. I've fucked up my life and nothing will make it right."

"Don't be such a drama queen," I tell him firmly. "Do you have transportation?"

"The Jeep," he murmurs.

"Good," I say. "I'm taking you home and putting you to bed. Because this isn't helping you. You know that, don't you?"

Justin swallows. "I know, Em. But I need to feel something. Anything."

This boy is desperate. Really, truly desperate. And my heart is breaking for him. "Let's go, babydoll."

"I'll take him home." And Dylan, the big man, is standing there.

Dylan's drunk, of course. He knows that Justin has been beating himself up, drowning his sorrows in the backroom, but he didn't do a fucking thing! So now he's the Marines coming to the rescue? I don't think so, boy!

"Fuck off!" I bark. And I guide Justin away from the bar. Away from Dylan. Out of Babylon. And into the cool night air.

We make our way to the Jeep, which is parked on Barker Place. As I unlock the door, Justin leans against me. He's crying. He's shaking. This boy is in deep trouble.

"My head aches, Em," he whispers. "Everything aches. There's no way to make it better!"

"Don't cry, honey." I hold him tightly. "You'll be fine."

"What do you do when you know you've made the biggest mistake of your pathetic life?" he asks me. "Brian will never understand! He'll never take me back!"

"Of course he will," I say. "He loves you, honey. And he'll understand. After all the fuck ups Brian's had in his life, he'd never blame you for anything."

"I don't think so, Em," he says despondently. "And even if he does forgive me, how can I ever forgive myself?"

That's the magic question, obviously. Justin has to forgive himself for whatever he thinks he's done. It isn't really about Brian at all. It's about Justin. And about the way he feels about himself.

"Let's get you home," I say. "That's where you belong."

"Please," he replies. "Take me home, Em. Back to the loft."

***

"If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?"

From "Over the Rainbow" (E.H. Harburg and Harold Arlen)

Continue on to "America's Boy Next Door".

©Gaedhal, June 2005.

Posted June 30, 2005.