This is Chapter 29 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrator is Michael Novotny, and features Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Meanwhile, Back in the Pitts. Pittsburgh, July 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
It's 2:00 a.m. and I'm still awake.
I hate this. Really hate it.
I never used to have a problem falling asleep. I'd get in bed, close my eyes, and -- pow! -- it would be the next morning.
Brian. He was the one who had trouble sleeping.
When he'd stay over at my house when we were kids I'd wake up in the middle of the night and see him standing at the window, staring out at the dark.
"What are you looking at?" I'd ask.
"Nothing," he'd say. "Everything."
"Never mind, Mikey. Go back to sleep."
And I would.
I wish I could go to sleep now.
I turn over. Then I turn over again.
Now it's 2:15 a.m.
I have do some inventory before I open the store tomorrow. Which means I need to be there early.
It's always the case that whenever you have to get up early, that's when you can't get to sleep.
Actually it's every night lately that I can't get to sleep.
I think that's why Brian started drinking so much. He'd drink until he passed out, then he didn't have to worry about falling asleep.
Of course, then you feel like shit in the morning. But if you haven't slept you feel like shit anyway.
Isn't that Catch-22? Something like that.
I never finished that book. We had to read it in the 11th grade. Mrs. Heller's English class. She was really a bitch! All those book reports. What was that book she made us read? 'A Separate Peace.' What was that all about? I still don't know. And 'Catcher in the Rye.' Everyone says how great that book is, but I couldn't finish it, either.
Luckily Brian wrote all my book reports.
"I'll just make it good enough so Heller will think you actually wrote it. No big words or penetrating insights."
"Gee, thanks. You wouldn't want to make me seem too smart, right?"
Brian looked at me. "I'm just being realistic, Mikey. Now copy it over in your own handwriting."
He was always helping me like that.
But when he really needed me, what did I do to help him?
Squat. Fucking nothing.
I mean, what could I do when Mr. Kinney got drunk? Not much. Leave the window open so Brian could climb in in the middle of the night. That's about all I could do. The teachers didn't do anything. Even Ma didn't really do anything except feed him when he didn't want to go home.
But eventually he had to go home. Go back to that house. Jack Kinney. Joan Kinney. Claire Kinney.
Jesus. What a place.
But he'd go home anyway.
Until he ran away.
And when he came back...
Shit. It's 2:30 a.m.
Maybe I could go back to school. And not to Allegheny Community College.
I could take some classes at Carnegie Mellon.
They have classes on comic books now. They call it 'Popular Culture.' I could take that. Maybe not as a major, but to start with.
I could take some business courses, too. It would be good to learn something about how to run a business instead of just winging it.
Not that Red Cape is doing bad. It isn't. It's doing great. Better than I ever imagined.
It's because I love comic books. And I know everything about them. That helps.
But some classes would be good, too.
When Brian went away to college I really felt lost. Left behind. It was the first time we'd been apart since we met.
Except for when Brian was in New York. And then in that rehab place. And the halfway house Tim used to run. Brian never talks about that. Neither does Tim.
I wonder what it was like? Seems weird that Brian was here in Pittsburgh, but I never saw him.
Weird about him and Father Tim. And now Tim is with Vic. Funny how things turn out.
Like me and Brian. Funny.
But except for those times, we were always together. Always. Until...
Fuck college! That's what I thought. Why did Brian have to leave town? He could have gone to Pitt or CMU.
"It's time to grow up, Mikey," he told me.
"Why? Why do we have to?"
I know. That was a stupid thing to say. But that's how I felt.
"You want to fly away to Never-Never Land? Live with all the Lost Boys?"
I didn't say anything.
"Time to put the comic books away. Time to move out of your bedroom and throw out your Captain Astro jammies. Time to be a man."
"Fuck you, Brian!"
"I'll see you on break. And over the summer. But after that..."
"You'll come back to the Pitts! We can live together! Get an apartment! It'll be fun!"
Brian sighed. "I'm never coming back to this two-bit burg. I'm going to New York. I'm going to get a job that pays me shitloads of money. I'm going to live in a cool apartment in a cool part of town. Chelsea. Or the East Village. I'm going to go to all the clubs and fuck any guy I want, whenever I want!"
"Careful, Brian! I mean it!"
That was before I knew Vic was HIV+ but I was still terrified of AIDS. I was terrified for Brian because I knew he wasn't always safe. And me -- on the few occasions I did fuck, I wasn't always safe, either. None of us were back then. Yeah, we were stupid. Young and stupid.
But we lucked out. A lot of guys didn't.
A lot of guys...
But Brian came back. He got an internship at Ryder Associates.
"It's only for the summer," he said. "Then I'm going to New York. I'm not going to get stuck in the Pitts forever!"
"Let's get an apartment now!" I was so excited.
But Brian blew me off. "I can't right now. I need my space, Mikey. We can still hang out. But I have things to do. Big things!"
"You mean guys to do," I sulked.
Brian's eyes turned hard. "Butt out, Michael. I mean it. I told you I have things to do. Sometimes it's business, sometimes it's pleasure, and sometimes it's both. But I don't have to answer to you. I don't have to answer to anyone! I only have to answer to myself! So I'll do what I want to do, when I want to do it, no fucking apologies, no fucking excuses. Are you listening, Mikey?"
"Yeah, I'm listening."
I still thought it was fucked up, but it was Brian being Brian.
Brian always being Brian.
I wonder what he's doing right now? Like this very minute?
I wonder what time it is in California?
I wonder if he still has trouble sleeping?
It's 2:45 a.m.
This is ridiculous.
I bet when he can't sleep I bet he wakes up Justin and fucks him and that puts him to sleep. He always used to say that nothing relaxes you like a good fuck. That if he'd fucked, then he didn't need to sleep. That a bed wasn't for sleeping, it was for fucking.
"This one," he said. "I should try to out right now. See if it has a lot of bounce." He looked around. "That salesman looks promising."
"What! Here?" We were in a furniture store. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and the place was full of shoppers. "You can't try out a bed like that! I mean... you know!"
"Why not? If I'm buying a bed for my first apartment, then I need to know if it has the right stuff. I don't want it collapsing while I'm fucking some guy. Or a couple of guys!"
"Shut up!" I said. "You can't fuck more than one guy at a time!"
"Christ, Michael, you're so naive!"
And I was. I was naive.
I had no idea what life was all about. No idea at all.
The first time I ever saw Brian with that guy, that client of Ryder's, I couldn't believe it. He was a big guy. Old. Fat. Bald. And rich.
"Hey, Mikey." We were at Woody's. It was already our favorite hangout. Brian used to spend a lot of time at Pistol, too, but I hated it there. All the guys were jerks. I knew they were making fun of me behind my back. Brian used to go there by himself, after I went home.
He used to go to a lot of places he didn't go with me. Meathook. Numbers. The Tool Shed. The Eagle.
I didn't like the guys there.
But Brian liked the guys there. He liked the guys anywhere.
"Hey, Mikey." He was drunk. And the client stared at me like I was dirt. "This is Chet."
"Hey," I mumbled.
But Chet didn't reply. He had a drink in one hand and the other hand on Brian's slender waist.
"Chet's the CEO of WorthCorp," Brian bragged. "I'm assisting Ross Moore on the Worth account. He's letting me handle part of the presentation to Marty Ryder. I've got some great ideas. Don't I, Chet?"
Chet grunted. He looked like a pig. Or a big, pink baby, all soft and squishy.
I knew Brian was fucking him. Fucking him to get ahead at Ryder. That was the business part. But where was the pleasure part?
It wasn't long after that that Babylon opened. Brian was there every night. In the backroom. Fucking and getting high.
I found him at the bar one night. It wasn't even 11:00 but he was already wasted.
"Brian, what are you doing to yourself?"
"Have one on me, Mikey!" He offered me a bump.
"Widdle Mikey, always a party pooper!" He did the bump himself. "And I do mean poop! I know a lot about poop. That's why I need this!" Then he did another one.
"Jesus, Brian! Be careful with that stuff!"
"You're not my fucking mother!" he spat at me. He glanced at his watch. "It's almost time." He looked slightly sick.
"Time for what?" I asked.
"For Chet. Mr. Chester Armstrong Worth, CEO of WorthCorp, who else? He's expecting me in a half hour. Tell me, Michael, ever hear of a scat queen?"
"A what?" I didn't know. Not back then.
"Ever seen a 57-year-old, 275-pound man in a diaper, Michael? It's not a pretty sight, let me tell you!"
"What are you talking about?"
That's how naive I was.
Not long after that Brian got a promotion. And a big raise. Then he bought the loft. At first it was empty except for his bed and clothes, but eventually he remodeled it and filled it with fancy Italian furniture. And he bought more clothes. Expensive clothes. He took over more accounts. He became the youngest account executive at Ryder Associates. One of the youngest advertising execs in town.
He'd changed, but to me he was still Brian. My Brian.
But there was something empty in his eyes. In his beautiful, sad eyes.
I wish I could talk to him. Call him. Brian would know what to say. He could tell me what to do.
If only I could hear his voice.
I'll never get to sleep now.
"What's the matter?" says a sleepy voice.
"Nothing. I can't sleep."
"You want some warm milk? I can make it for you."
I laugh. "Now you sound like Emmett!"
"Oh, God!" he says. "Not like Emmett! Anything but that! Here -- I'll get up."
"No, don't. It's late. You have to work tomorrow."
"So do you."
He reaches out to me. His arms are warm. He kisses me. And I kiss him back. I need to kiss him back.
"Talk to me," he says. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing. Everything is fine."
"I have to go."
I get out of bed and start to get dressed. I should have done this hours ago, but I didn't want to leave.
"Really, it's okay. I have to go home. What if he calls?"
But Ben doesn't say anything.
"David and Hank are coming home from Portland on Sunday, so maybe this should be the last time, okay?"
"Is that what you want? Really?"
"It doesn't matter what I want. It's no longer about what I want."
"Yes, it is."
"No!" I turn away. "I have responsibilities. I have a life."
"Do you?" Ben asks.
"I have to go."
In the living room Ben's foster kid, Hunter, is sitting on the sofa, watching something on the cable.
"Isn't it a little late for you to be up?"
"It's summer vacation. Unlike Ben, I don't have summer classes. Besides, I enjoy watching you sneak out of here in the middle of the night."
"Aren't you afraid of getting caught by your husband-to-be?" He smirks at me.
"It's none of your fucking business!"
He glares at me. "It is if you're hurting Ben. I don't give a shit about your sorry ass, but I do care about Ben. I think you should stay away from him."
"I told you to mind your own business!"
He shrugs. "Your funeral, dude." And he goes back to watching HBO.
It's hot out. The sky is dark and clear, the stars shining. Tomorrow is going to be even hotter.
Hot even for July.
One month until the wedding.
The happiest day of my life.
I better go home and get some sleep.
If I can.
©Gaedhal, January 2009.
Posted January 2, 2009.