This is Chapter 5 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the beginning of this saga.
The narrator is Justin Taylor, and features Gus Peterson-Marcus, Debbie Novotny, Marshall Meyers, Professor Stanley, Juanita, Bart, Shayla, Gwen Worthing, Rhonette Stokes, Dylan Burke, Josh, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin wants to get closer to Gus. January, 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.
I end up keeping Gus all night in the loft. I know that I have a studio class in the morning, but I really want him to stay with me. We can always get up extra early so that I can get him ready to go with me to school. I call Lindsay and tell her.
"Are you sure it's no trouble, Justin?" she keeps asking. But it's no trouble. No trouble at all.
After he wakes up from his short evening nap, we drive over to Liberty Avenue and I mail my letter. Then Gus and I walk over to the diner. Even though we just ate 2 hours ago, Gus is hungry again. And I have to confess that I'm a little hungry, too. It's getting late, but Deb is still working and she feeds both of us dinner -- a little turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and plenty of gravy.
"Now, Gus," I tell him. "Daddy wouldn't approve of all that gravy. And he thinks that the mashed potatoes here at the diner have way too much butter in them, but you and I are a couple of growing boys, right?"
"Right!" Gus agrees.
"So we need to keep up our strength. You want to eat as many carbs as you can before your metabolism begins to slow down and you have spend half your life at the gym. Luckily it hasn't happened to me -- yet. Or to you. Which means...." I gesture for Deb to come over. "Gus and I will have the apple pie a la mode. Right, Gus?"
"Pie mode!" he squeals.
"Well," Debbie giggles. "Are you two fueling up for a night of cruising? Because I think your trick is a little young for Babylon, Sunshine."
"No, we have a movie date tonight. 'Beauty and the Beast.' We watched 'Yellow Submarine' the last time Gus stayed over," I say, tucking a large napkin around his neck in preparation for the pie and vanilla ice cream that is certain to fall on his X-Men sweatshirt. That was a present from Michael, of course.
"Is Lindsay still not feeling well, hon?" asks Deb with concern.
"No, she's fine. I just wanted to keep Gus and she said it was okay. Tomorrow I have a studio class in the morning and then a meeting to go to right after lunch. Fridays are usually a little light, so it's no problem to bring him with me to PIFA for the day. I'll drop him off after my meeting. I think Lindsay appreciates the break. She's been a little tired lately and Gus can be a handful."
"You're a sweetheart to do this, Justin," says Debbie. "A lot of guys couldn't be bothered."
"It isn't a bother at all, Deb," I reply, thinking of Gus' upset at his pre-school this afternoon. "I love Gus, and when he gets older he's going to want to spend more time with his father. I know he will. I mean, Lindz and Mel do a great job, but little boys just want their dads sometimes. That means I'm going to be a permanent part of Gus' life and I want Gus to know that from the beginning."
Debbie gives me a dubious look. "Well, Sunshine, you better be around for a long time and keep that Brian in line. That way you can be a positive influence on Gus. AND on Brian, too!"
Juanita brings the pie over to the booth and grins at Gus. "Thanks, kiddo," says Deb, taking the two dishes. She sets one in front of Gus and the other in front of me. Juanita goes to take another order and Debbie leans over to me. "So, honey? Have you heard anything about Brian? Anything at all?"
I shake my head. "Nothing. But then I didn't expect to. Brian... he's not allowed to write or call anyone. So I haven't really expected to hear from him." I cut off a piece of pie for Gus and feed it to him. I have to act like it's no big deal to me. In fact, not hearing anything is the biggest deal in the world. It's killing me -- not knowing what's going on. Not knowing how he is. Not knowing if he's thinking about me. If he still loves me.
"Let me do that, Baby," says Deb. "You eat your pie and I'll help this young man here." Debbie begins spooning large helpings of pie and ice cream into Gus' mouth. Gus giggles with delight as he gobbles the sticky mess off of the spoon. I think that Debbie was feeding Michael like that right up until he was in high school. The way he uses his silverware suggests that he still isn't used to feeding himself with anything other than his hands! Yeah, I know it's a little snarky, but Michael's attitude towards Brian not being here in Pittsburgh is getting on my nerves. You'd think that it was something Brian was doing just to bug Michael and not something that he's doing because it's necessary. Something that Brian is doing for himself. And for us. It has nothing to do with Michael. And Michael is just going to have to start realizing that.
"And who do we have here, Mr. Taylor?" asks Professor Stanley, crossing her arms. She's the senior instructor in my Friday morning Life Study studio.
"This is Gus. He's going to be sitting in today. If that's all right?"
I can see her hesitate for a moment. But Professor Stanley let one of the female students bring her baby into the studio one day when her sitter was sick, so she can't very well tell me that I can't bring Gus today. She knows me well enough to know that I'd make a big stink if she did that.
"Of course," she says, finally. "Is this your son, Mr. Taylor?"
"Yes," I reply immediately. "He's my partner's son, so he's mine, too. Right Gus?" And Gus nods right on cue. We've got our act together.
I put Gus down at my feet, next to the easel, take out a large sheet of paper from my portfolio, and unfold it on the floor. Then I get out a tin box of crayons.
"See, Gus," I point. "That's Bart. He's the model today. We're all going to draw Bart, okay?"
"Kay!" he says, squinting at the naked model sitting on a stool in the middle of the room.
"I'll draw up here," I continue, setting my paper on the easel. "While you can have the floor all to yourself."
It's really fun watching Gus. He looks at the other students and then very seriously copies what they are doing. He stares at the model and then he sees how I begin outlining his figure on my paper. So Gus begins to do the same thing. And he actually has a kind of head and some lines for the body. Then he takes a few crayons and selects his colors and scribbles them on the paper. Gus looks at what he's done and picks another color and tries that one.
"You're doing very well, Gus," says Professor Stanley. She smiles at him. "I have a little boy at home, too, Mr. Taylor."
"Oh?" I say. "How old is he?"
"He's 6, but so far he is more interested in football than in art," she laughs. "I think Gus has inherited your artistic talent, Mr. Taylor."
I'm grinning from ear to ear. "Nothing would make me happier." And I don't correct her about inheriting anything from me. Because for just a short moment I can pretend that Gus belongs to me. That I'm more than a glorified babysitter. That we have a real connection that can never be broken. And we really do. If not a connection by blood, then a connection by love, and I think that's just as important.
When studio class ends I carefully fold up Gus' picture and slip it into my portfolio with my own drawing. Bart puts on his robe and comes over. "He's a cute kid, Taylor," says Bart. "He looks just like you."
Of course, Gus looks nothing at all like me. He's the spitting image of Brian in every way. But Bart, while he has great abs and is hung like a donkey, isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. "Thanks, Bart. I appreciate it."
"I knocked up this girl when I was in high school. My parents still send her money for the brat. I should look him up sometime, you know? Maybe he's as cute as your kid."
"Um, maybe, Bart," I say, not certain how to respond to Bart's attempt at fatherly bonding. "Come on, Gus."
"See ya around, Taylor. You too, kid," says Bart as he wanders off.
I take Gus to the snackbar in the Art Building so we can get some lunch. Just as we are going in Marshall runs over to join us. "Justin! Hey! Are you babysitting today?"
"No, Marshall. This is my... my son, Gus. Say hello, Gus." Gus frowns at Marshall. He's hungry and that means he's getting crabby. He sticks his finger in his mouth and chews on it -- just like Brian does when he's nervous.
"Your son?" Marshall exclaims. "Justin, I didn't know you had a kid!"
"Well, now you do," I push open the door of the snackbar. I pick up a tray and the three of us move through the line. "What would you like, Gus? A hot dog? Or some french fries? I don't know what time you're going to have dinner, so if you're hungry, say so."
"Hot dog!" he barks. "Now!" Gus is kind of little dictator, especially when he's hungry.
"Here," says Marshall. "I'll get it for him." Marshall takes the hot dog from the server and puts it on the tray.
"Yup," Gus says to Marshall, smiling. Now they are good pals. "Tato chips!"
"He's really cute, Justin," says Marshall, grabbing a package of potato chips.
"I know. Everyone says that," I tell Marshall. "I may be biased, but I think he's the cutest baby ever. Unfortunately, Gus thinks so, too. And does he ever use it. Don't you Gus?" I grin at him, but Gus just shrugs and pokes his tongue into his cheek. It's so much a Brian expression that I feel like my stomach just took a plunge in an elevator. I take a deep breath and move on.
We pay for the food and then find a booth in the back of the snackbar. It's quieter there, away from the doors. I scoot Gus to the inside of the booth -- that's the best way to keep him contained -- and I sit right next to him. Marshall slips into the opposite seat with his tray. First I cut Gus' hot dog into bite-sized pieces, which he proceeds to pick up with his hands and shove into his mouth. Then I take his sippy cup out of my backpack and pour some chocolate milk into it. I have this whole procedure down to a science now that we've been spending more time together. Gus and I are like a well-oiled machine -- except when he decides to dig his heels in and not cooperate at all. Gee, I wonder who he inherited THAT from?
It seems I'm always comparing the way Gus does things with Brian. Some of the little things are so similar that it has to be genetics. It just can't be a coincidence the way Gus tilts his head down and then looks up at you with his eyes so coyly. Or the way he moves his tongue around when he's thinking. Or that he sucks on exactly the same finger Brian does when he's nervous.
It makes me long to know what Brian looked like when he was Gus' age. Brian has one little photo of himself as a baby -- with his father holding him in his arms. That surprised me when I found it at the back of one of his drawers. Brian doesn't have any other childhood pictures of himself or his mother or sister, so it's weird that he'd have one of himself and his dad. All the other photos Brian has begin with him in high school. A couple of them seem to be from before he went to New York. In one he's with Michael and they both look really young. Then some of Brian are definitely after New York -- he's taller and older-looking, but he also has a harder, more haunted look in his eyes. Those photos were stuck in the back of the drawer, too, like he didn't really want to look at them, but also couldn't throw them away.
I have this strange fantasy of going over to Mrs. Kinney's house and speaking with her about Brian. I know she would recognize me immediately, not only from that time she barged in on us at the loft, but also from all the publicity about the photos of me and Brian on 'La Diva' and then Ron's death. She would probably slam the door in my face because I'm an evil queer -- yeah, just like her favorite priest, the Reverend Father Tom Buttfuck! But I'm dying to get some pictures of Brian when he was little. I have this idea of making a collage of pictures of Brian and pictures of Gus matched together in some way. I want to make it for Father's Day. However, I need to get those photos. Maybe Brian's sister would be more approachable. Or maybe if I took Gus over to Brian's mom's house she'd be a little more forthcoming. Then again, probably not.
I look up and Marshall is staring at me and Gus. "What's the matter?"
"Oh, nothing," answers Marshall. "It's just that it seems so weird to see you with your kid, Justin. You look so... I don't know -- confident! Yeah, confident. God, being around little kids and babies makes me nervous. I'm always afraid they're going to fall down and start screaming or something and I wouldn't know how to handle it!"
I laugh. "When Gus falls down, I pick him and brush him off. And if he starts screaming, then I comfort him until he stops. Don't I, Gus?"
Gus just shrugs again and sticks a piece of hot dog in his mouth. "Tatos!" he demands.
"Okay, here you go." I pile some more potato chips on his tray. I'm really proud of the way Gus is behaving. It's almost as if he's trying to be good, first in the studio class and now at lunch. I just hope his good mood lasts for the rest of the afternoon.
"You know I really admire you, Justin," Marshall continues. "I feel like such a kid when I see you. I mean, you have a son, you live in your own place, you've traveled all over and met lots of famous people -- if you don't mind me mentioning that stuff."
"I don't mind. Not really. As long as people don't harp on it."
"Most important is that you're a real artist, Justin! You've had your pieces in real exhibitions, like at the Austin Gallery and now the Warhol Museum."
I smile. "You know about that, huh?"
Marshall's eyes widen. "Sure! Everyone knows about that! Don't you know that you're, like, the STAR of our class at PIFA? You must know that! Your career has already started! And you have a real life. A real grown-up life! We're the same age, but I haven't done anything at all but go to school and hang out. Living in the dorm is my big experiment in independence. But you -- you've done THINGS!" Marshall reaches out and touches Gus' hair gently. Gus' hair is dark and silky and eyes are so huge, with long black lashes. He laughs and grabs at Marshall's hand.
I have to think about what Marshall is saying. I can see how things would look from his perspective, or what my life must seem to other people. Maybe it seems glamorous to Marshall in the way that Brian's life seemed so glamorous to me when Brian first brought me to the loft. But I didn't see what was really going on in Brian's life, just like Marshall can't know what is really going on in mine. He wouldn't think it was so glamorous if he knew the truth.
But I guess that I take the way I live for granted. So much of it just happened. I never intended to leave home when I did. Or to live with Brian and be his partner -- well, maybe I DID intend for THAT to happen, but not in the way that it has all turned out. That we would have lived through so many things together that I could never have imagined that first night I went with Brian back to his loft. I know that Mom thinks I'm too young to have done a lot of the things I've done, or to have taken on a lot of the responsibilities I have, but that's just Fate. You do what you do. You take things as they come. You play the hand you're dealt.
I check my watch. "I have a meeting at 1:00, so Gus and I are going over to that as soon as we finish eating."
"What kind of meeting?" asks Marshall, shoving a couple of potato chips into his mouth.
"It's PIFA Pride Union. They're doing some kind of straight outreach and they want me to come and talk about my experience trying to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school."
Marshall frowns. "I've never been to any kind of gay club meeting before. I guess I'm not very political."
"I'm not so much either anymore," I admit. "Then I didn't have a lot of luck with the GSA in my school, St. James Academy. In fact, it was a fucking disaster. But they want to know about it, so... If you want to come along, you're welcome, Marshall."
"I... I guess so." He looks down at his plate. "Justin... I'm not really very out. Some people know here, but only a few of my friends at home." He pauses. "My mom and dad don't know."
"I don't think the Pride Union will be sending our names home to our parents, so don't worry about it, Marshall!" I laugh. "Jesus, you were out enough to ask me to go to the movies!"
"But... that was different. I knew that you were gay." Marshall pokes his finger at Gus, who grabs onto it and squeezes tightly. "He's really strong!"
"Gus has the Kinney Grip, don't you Gus?" I say, thinking of the way Brian can hold you up with one hand while he fucks the shit out of you.
"What's the Kinney Grip?" Marshall asks innocently, like it's something he should know about.
"Something between me and my partner -- only!" I laugh.
So Marshall follows me and Gus over to the Pride Union meeting. It's more crowded than I expected. I knew there must be a lot of queers at PIFA, it is a fine arts college after all, but I didn't think so many of them were into going to meetings. I recognize Shayla, from the GLBT mixer at Carnegie Mellon.
She walks over to us while I'm taking off Gus' coat. "Justin Taylor. I heard you were going to be here. I'm speaking too."
"Great," I say as I struggle to get Gus' fist out of the arm of his coat. Shayla stares at Gus. "This is my son. Say hello, Gus." But Gus kind of grimaces at Shayla and won't shake her hand. I knew that kid had good taste!
"I didn't know you had a kid, Justin," says Shayla. "Gee, I'm kind of surprised."
"Didn't think I had it in me, huh?" I retort. Shayla's a bitch, with her shaved head and superior attitude. She obviously thinks she's slumming over here at the Institute of Fine Art. "That's what happens when a poor gay boy like me gets knocked up in high school!"
"You're a real comedian, aren't you, Justin?" Shayla snarks. "Alan Wray told me all about your pissy attitude."
I stare at her evenly. "Oh, yeah? Alan is talking about ME having a bad attitude? That's pretty funny! Did he also tell you that I kicked his nelly ass in Woody's one night? I bet he forgot to mention that little event."
Shayla shrugs. Then she eyes Marshall. "This your new boyfriend?"
Marshall gulps and doesn't know what to say. "This is my FRIEND, Marshall," I assert, coming to his rescue. "Not that it's any of your fucking business." Shayla snorts and turns away.
"Hey, Justin! Over here!"
I look up and see Gwen Worthing waving at me. She's sitting on a folding chair next to Rhonette Stokes, another dance major she's been hanging out with a lot lately. I take Gus' hand and lead him over to Gwen, while Marshall trails along behind us.
"Gwennie, what are you doing here?"
"I came along with Rhonette." Gwen looks over at the dark, long-legged Rhonette and that's when it hits me. They're together! I can't believe it! I should have figured that something was going on when Gwen dumped Jon, who is about the only straight guy in the entire Dance Program, just before Thanksgiving. Jon was really pissed and started telling everyone that Gwennie was a big dyke, but I thought it was just sour grapes. I guess it wasn't!
But before I can get the scoop on this new development, the President of PIFA Pride Union, a Film major named Josh, calls the meeting to order. Gwen and Rhonette immediately grab Gus and say that they'll watch him. Gus is already working his charm on the girls. He's grinning and touching Rhonette's long, elaborate braids, feeling the beads that are woven into them. I go up on the platform at the front of the room and sit on one of the folding chairs. Shayla is sitting at the other end of the dais. She's looking around and seems to be saving a seat for someone.
Josh launches into a big spiel about the importance of understanding between gay and straight students at PIFA. He mentions that incidents of harassment were up Fall Semester, but that most students didn't realize it because the Administration, mainly Armstrong, the Dean of Students, kept those incidents quiet. One guy stands up and talks about how he had 'fag' written on his message board and every time he erased it, it was written again. The RA of his dorm floor was never able to figure out who was doing it, so the kid moved off the floor and off campus because he didn't feel safe. Then another girl stands up and talks about how some guys threw rocks at her and her girlfriend when they were crossing campus holding hands. Then some more people tell similar stories.
All of these stories are making me really uncomfortable. I really thought I had gotten past all of this. I thought hearing this kind of shit wouldn't bother me anymore, but it does. Hearing about this stuff happening to other gay students makes me fucking paranoid and afraid and I don't want to feel like that here, at PIFA, where I thought I was safe. I guess I've just been naive.
The door opens in the back. Someone comes in and walks up to the platform, sitting down next to Shayla. It's that guy from the Carnegie Mellon Mixer the other night. The tall, dark-haired guy who was hanging around with Alan Wray. I find myself staring at him, even though I'm trying not to. Jesus, he just looks so much like... like a younger version of Brian that I can't help myself.
Josh then introduces Shayla and she stands up and talks about the Gay/Straight Outreach at Carnegie Mellon. She tells us about their Awareness Program and how hate incidents are down this year on their campus. She's bragging a little, I think. But I have to admit that they've done a lot at their school, more than at PIFA, that's for certain. Then the tall guy stands up and Shayla introduces him.
I blink. Fuck. I KNOW him! I mean, I knew him a long time ago. We were in Little League together and he was a total jock. And now... I can't fucking believe that he's here. That he's... gay.
He talks about how he went to another school on an athletic scholarship for -- what else? -- baseball, but once his coach and teammates found out that he was gay they made his life a living hell. I can just imagine. And the college wouldn't do anything to prevent the harassment or to punish the harassers, which was why he transferred to Carnegie Mellon.
And while he's talking, telling about the problems that he had at school, I start remembering the Dylan Burke that I knew back in Little League. I remember standing in the outfield and staring at him playing first base. I remember how I felt when he put his hand on my shoulder and said that he would miss me if I quit the team. I remember riding on the roller coaster together at the end of the summer, and holding hands. Well, sort of holding hands. And I remember that I knew that my life would never be the same after that summer. Because I really knew that I was different from the other boys. That I was gay. I realized that after knowing Dylan Burke.
"The atmosphere at Carnegie Mellon is better," he admits, standing confidently at the podium. "But it's still not great. Even if your own teammates leave you alone, then the guys on the other teams we play pick up the slack. They can't seem to get past the idea that I'm checking out their dicks in the locker room."
Everyone laughs at that. But Dylan Burke isn't smiling when he says it. And then he turns, just a little bit -- and he looks straight at me.
It's like all the air has been sucked out of this room in one second. And I... I have to get out of here. Right now! Because I can't fucking breathe!
I lean over to Josh and tell him that I need to get my son back home.
"But, Justin, you haven't had a chance to speak!" Josh frowns.
"I'm sorry, Josh. Maybe... maybe next time. When I don't have Gus with me." I look over at where Gwen and Rhonette and Marshall are sitting. And, of course, Gus is being perfect. He's sitting quietly on Gwennie's lap, playing with his stuffed panda and looking like he's listening to the discussion with intense interest.
I stand up and Dylan Burke stops talking and turns to look at me again. Then he smiles at me. Just slightly.
I grab Gus. I don't even remember walking out of the room. But the next thing I know, Gus and I are in the Jeep, hauling ass away from campus.
Continue on to "Runaway".
©Gaedhal, February 2004.
Posted February 2, 2004.