This is Chapter 1 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrators are Michael Novotny and Justin Taylor, and features Edwin, Debbie Novotny, Emmett Honeycutt, Brian Kinney, Ben Bruckner, Alan Wray, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Just another day in the Pitts. Pittsburgh, May 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
"Michael! Hi-hi! Meet me at the diner for lunch at noon. I got some news. Okey-dokey! See you then!"
Emmett on my voicemail. I haven't talked to him for a couple of days. I've been really busy. Really, really busy. Well, sort of busy.
I wish Emmett would just tell me what his news is instead of making me walk all the way over to the diner, but everything has to be a big production with him.
I suppose I could use a decent lunch. I haven't eaten at the diner in a while. And I haven't seen Ma in over a week. She's been bitching at me about that. But there's so much going on, what with the store and David reviving his practice and the end of Hank's school year at St. James....
Yeah, I know. Fucking excuses.
I didn't even see Brian before he left. Not that it matters. I mean, we're still friends, but things are all different now. I'm different. Brian's different. We have our own lives. We don't have to be in each other's faces 24/7. Not like it used to be. Not like when....
"Um -- Michael?"
I look up. "Huh?"
It's Edwin. He's handling the cash register today. He's been working here at the store for the past month and he's not bad. At least I can trust him not to steal stuff. Edwin sitting out front also gives me time to do some other things. Keeping the books in order. Checking eBay for new listings. Responding to mail order requests. Writing down some new ideas for 'Rage.'
I still haven't given up on my comic book. But the publisher rejected the panels that Edwin had done in place of Justin's, so I'm back to square one. Edwin doesn't seem too discouraged, though. He's happily redoing all the illustrations while he works here to pay his rent. He still thinks the publisher will change his mind. Maybe. Or maybe not. Edwin is an okay artist, but he's no Justin, that's for sure. His panels are all right, I guess, but they're amateurish. At least that's what the publisher said.
"Do you want to look over this new catalog or can I take it home with me?" He holds up a booklet with new 'Star Wars' models in it that just came today.
"Let me take a quick look and then you can have it." I flip through the catalog. I'm not buying a lot of models and toys right now. David says I have enough junk in the house already and he's right. Since Hank is living with us now, there's no place to put all my stuff, so I have most of my collection in boxes piled in the storeroom here at Red Cape.
"Are you going to lunch soon?" Edwin asks as I hand him back the catalog. "Wanna get something at Aladdin's? Some falafel or maybe a gyro?" A new Lebanese restaurant just opened down the street and Edwin is eating his way through the menu.
"No thanks. I'm meeting Emmett at the Liberty Diner in a half-hour."
"Oh, okay," Edwin nods. "Can you bring me back some of those lemon squares?"
I have to smile. Edwin's only serious relationship is with his own stomach. "Sure. I'll bring some back for you."
"Great!" He grins back at me. "Thanks, Michael!" And he goes back to studying the new model catalog.
I know those lemon squares will make Edwin's day. That and the catalog make this a Four Star Day for Edwin.
At least it's a Four Star Day for someone.
I go back into the office and take out my cell, hitting the speed-dial.
David's receptionist answers. Even though I've called about a million times, she always sounds so formal. "I'm sorry, Michael. Dr. Cameron is with a patient right now. May I take a message?"
"No, no message. Tell him I'll see him at home tonight."
Yeah, David's been really busy, too, lately. Building his patient base back up. Making new contacts. Working with his charity and political groups. And also dealing with Hank and the problems he's having handling moving here from Portland and coming to terms with his mother and stepfather's divorce. David has a lot on his plate right now and the last thing I want to do is add to that.
The last thing he needs is me coming to him with my petty complaints. David would just say I'm being childish. That there's no reason for me to feel insecure.
So why do I feel so insecure?
Because I AM insecure, that's why. Fucking insecure.
"Don't frown, Mikey." I can hear Brian's voice echoing in my head. "You're great! You're hot! You're beautiful! If I say it, then it must be true -- because I'm always right. Right?"
"Asshole!" I whisper.
I glance up at the clock. Time to walk over to the diner and meet Em.
It's a gorgeous May day. Sunny, but not too hot. Pittsburgh can get really humid in July and August, but right now it's perfect. Liberty Avenue is teeming with hot guys breaking out their tank tops and shorts and enjoying the beginning of summer.
I remember when Brian and I first started coming to Liberty Avenue. It was during our senior year in high school. Woody's was here, but we were too scared to go inside a real gay bar. At least I was too scared. But I later found out that Brian was already hanging out here regularly. Going into all the bars with his fake ID. Dancing in the big disco that was here before Babylon opened. Brian was doing a lot of other things, too, besides drinking and dancing. Things he didn't tell me about. He knew I wasn't ready for all that. Not yet. Not at all.
On Saturday afternoons we'd come down here together and just look. We'd watch all the guys. Amazed that they were so honest. So free. Unafraid to let the world know they were gay. Cruising each other openly. And cruising us, too. Especially cruising Brian. Looking him up and down. Devouring him with their eyes. Recognizing even back then that Brian Kinney was something out of the ordinary. And he was looking back at them. Challenging them. Seducing them with his eyes.
Whenever a guy would cruise me, I'd blush and look away. I was such a fucking pussy!
But Brian was never afraid of anything. He still isn't. Which is why he's now a famous movie star. An out and proud movie star. That and the fact that he's the hottest fucking guy in the world. He's Brian Fucking Kinney.
The owner of Red Cape Comics?
Dr. Cameron's partner? Hank Cameron's pseudo-parent?
Debbie Novotny's son?
The would-be writer of a would-be comic book?
Brian Kinney's best friend?
I see two young guys standing on the corner of Liberty and Barker Place. Leaning against the lamppost there. They're laughing together. Watching the guys passing by. Smacking each other on the arm. Whispering. Best friends forever.
Forever is an awfully long time.
The diner is packed, but Emmett is already here, in the second to last booth. Our old spot.
"Over here, hon!" he waves. "Deb! Michael's here!"
Ma comes out of the kitchen, her hands on her hips, her face stormy. "Well! Long time, no see!" She puts her face close to mine for a kiss, so I peck her cheek -- and then she whacks me on the side of the head! And I mean HARD! "Where the fuck have you been all week?"
"Ow!" I cry, rubbing my head. "Jeez! That hurt, Ma!"
"Serves you right! You little shit!" she huffs. "So, you think you're too busy to come and see your mother? Or maybe the diner isn't good enough for Mrs. Doctor David Cameron? Ha! I've heard that one before!"
"I HAVE been busy, Ma!" I insist. "Really!" And then I make 'The Face.' You know -- the one a mother can never resist. Sort of sad and pitiful and wounded so she won't fucking belt me anymore!
Ma's lip quivers a little. And then she gives me a big hug. "Okay, I believe you. But you're still a little shit!" She lets me go. "Now sit your ass down and I'll bring you a Pink Plate Special. It's Fish and Chips. Is that all right with you, Your Highness?"
I sit down in the booth across from Emmett. "That's fine. Fabulous Friday Fish and Chips sounds great. Thanks, Ma." She goes to put in my order and I turn to Em. "Did she smack you, too?"
Emmett giggles. "She did not -- Thank God! But I AM having the Pink Plate Special, too. I was afraid to order anything else!"
"So," I ask. "What's your big news?"
Emmett grins at me. Then he pulls out some folded sheets of paper with a flourish. "This!"
It looks like e-mail printouts. "Got a new cyber boyfriend? Who are you pretending to be now? And who is he pretending to be?"
"Shut up!" Emmett yelps. "This is not about my online sex life! This is from Justin. He e-mailed me from the middle of the Arizona desert!"
"Did you say Justin?" Suddenly Ma is right here again. "What about Justin? What desert? Let me see that!" And she makes a grab for the printouts.
"No!" Emmett cries. "This is my news! Justin sent this letter to me! So if you want me to read it, then stop trying to snatch it out of my hands!"
"That's the only time snatch and your hands will ever be in the same sentence!" Ma cackles.
"Jeez! Give it a rest, Ma!" I beg. "If you're going to tell us what Justin has to say, Em, just read the thing and get it over with. I'd like to get back to the store sometime this afternoon."
"Alrighty then," says Em, basking in being the center of everyone's attention. "This is what the boy has to say...."
Dear Em --
Sorry I didn't answer your e-mail faster, but Brian and I have been really busy since last Friday when we got to L.A., as you can imagine.
First -- the house. Remodeling is not finished yet and Brian is pissed! The bedrooms and the living room are finally done, but the other thing isn't. And that was Brian's big surprise -- he's having the poolhouse converted into a studio for me! I'd been planning to use the poolhouse as my studio, but I never imagined that Brian would have it completely refurbished! They're adding skylights and making the windows larger, and it will be fully equipped with a new tablet computer and state-of-the-art printer. All the bells and whistles, as Brian says. So I was floored when we came into the house and I saw the men working on it. But Brian said, 'What the fuck?" and marched over to see why they were still there! (I guess it was supposed to be finished by May 1.)
So, unfortunately, my new computer and printer and all my art supplies are still in their boxes because the skylights are leaking and some other things will have to be redone as well. You know what a perfectionist Brian is (otherwise known as anal retentive! LOL!). He started yelling at the contractor about the delay and all the fuck-ups. The contractor just stared at him (I think these remodeling guys are used to being reamed out by frustrated homeowners!) and when Brian finished screaming at him, he said, "You have a great lot here. This house would be a good tear-down. I can clear this space for you and build you a place twice this size. Wanna look at some plans?"
Well, Brian freaked out! "No I don't want to look at any plans! I am NOT tearing down my house! I paid you to remodel it, not rip it down and build some fucking monstrosity in its place! You can't even get the poolhouse right and you think I'd let you build an entirely new house? You must be fucking crazy!"
I was laughing my ass off and so were Carmel (she's our housekeeper) and Leslie (she's Brian's personal assistant). But Brian didn't think it was funny at all. So two minutes after we got here he was in a foul mood.
"I can just picture Brian getting in that guy's face!" Ma says with glee. She's pushed me over in the booth and is now sitting down, listening to Em read Justin's message and ignoring all the customers calling for their Pink Plate Specials. "Keep your fucking pants on! That fish isn't swimming away and neither are you!" She yells back at them. "I wanna hear what Sunshine has to say!"
"May I proceed?" Em asks.
"Yeah. More, please!" Ma orders.
After Brian calmed down a little we went upstairs and unpacked. But almost immediately we had to sort out what we're going to take with us on location. We're living in a trailer, which Brian says will really be an oversized RV. The problem is we aren't sure how big it is and probably won't know until we see it. Brian told them he wanted it air conditioned, with a shower, and the biggest bed they could fit inside, but things like closet space, a kitchen, and computer access apparently didn't come up in the discussion. Brian says we ought to trust Dorian on that and Leslie agrees. She says that the studio knows what they're doing when it comes to keeping its stars comfortable on location, so we shouldn't worry. She says if we were part of the ensemble -- which means the other actors playing the cowboys on the cattle drive -- it might be a different story.
Of course, Brian is going to be in costume most of the day -- he went for fittings at the studio on Monday and Tuesday -- but you know Brian. He always likes to be prepared with the correct clothes, even in the middle of the desert. But Tucson isn't too far from the location site and according to the 'Gay Guide to the USA' there are gay bars and pretty decent restaurants there, as well as some cool places to shop, and Brian wouldn't want to be caught looking like a bum in any of them! I really don't care if people I don't know see me looking like a bum, but Brian is attempting to correct that attitude. It's going to be hot in Arizona and Texas and I'd be fine with wearing shorts, a tee shirt, and flip-flops every single day. Brian is looking over my shoulder right now and making a rude noise regarding my fashion sense. Oops! I think I better stop now -- something's come up! LOL! I'll continue when I can.
"Yeah, I know what came up!" Ma cracks. "Brian's dick! I bet Sunshine is getting a real workout out there in Hollywood!"
"Ma, for godsake! Will you just be quiet about that stuff?" I plead.
"Why should I?" Ma grumbles. "The whole world knows those two fuck like a couple of bunnies. Jeez Louise, they were doing it on the cover of the 'National Enquirer'! Just because you don't like hearing about it, doesn't make 'em stop!"
"Keep reading," I tell Emmett.
Sorry about the interruption! Brian's asleep now. He had to get up really early this morning (it's Wednesday night now) to go to a super secret meeting (more on that later!). Tomorrow morning the RV (a.k.a. our trailer/home-away-from-home!) will arrive at the house. We have to pack it (Leslie is coming over to help), and then we'll leave for Arizona. No, I'm not driving and neither is Brian. A professional driver from the studio is assigned to drive the RV (and us!) to the locations.
Last Saturday night Dorian (along with Diane Rhys) took us out to dinner at Tako, this amazing new sushi place in West Hollywood. Brian got the royal treatment from the minute we walked in and so did Diane! I haven't had a chance to watch a lot of television in the last few months, so I keep forgetting how popular her new show is! The sushi chef kept making all these incredible dishes for us -- I didn't know what I was eating half the time, but they looked like fucking works of art! The specialty at Tako is octopus -- the decor is huge octopuses (octopi?) everywhere! It's like you're completely wrapped in tentacles.
Diane is from an old Polish neighborhood in Buffalo and she's always complaining about the trendy food everyone eats here Hollywood. She's a great cook -- cabbage rolls and things like that. Old fashioned comfort food. But when it comes to sushi, she's still a little dubious. So she poked at the sashimi on her plate and announced, "I don't know about this! That thing looks like it's still ALIVE!" And Brian replied, "It probably is. Just close your eyes and pretend it's a pierogie!" LOL!
The other funny thing is that Dorian is gay (and totally in love with Brian -- what else is new?), but it was like he and Diane were on a date. Brian reminded me that Dorian used to be married and that he gets into these hetero moods occasionally, but it was still weird to see the two of them getting kind of romantic. And then they left together! Still not sure what that's all about.
On Monday Brian went for costume fittings. I drove him to Terra Nova Studio in my P.T. Cruiser. Then I went to Brian's doctor for a check-up (don't worry, Em! Nothing serious. My hand's been fine lately) and afterwards did some shopping until Brian was ready to be picked up. And I only got lost ONCE driving in Beverly Hills! I'm getting pretty good at finding my way around.
Now here's the thing you can't tell anyone about, Em. At least not yet.
"Maybe I better stop reading this part," Emmett says. "If Justin says it's a secret...."
"Don't you fucking stop now!" Ma squawks. "Who are Michael and I gonna tell?"
"Well...." Emmett looks torn.
"Just keep reading, Em," I urge. "If it's something too personal, just skip over it." Although I admit that I'm dying to know what the secret is. Which was why I thought Emmett wanted me to come over here -- to hear Justin's big news.
On Wednesday Brian's agent, Lew Blackmore, called him really early and told him to come to a meeting at this producer's office on Wilshire.
"Something's up," Brian said. "Lew sounded excited -- and he never sounds excited."
"Can it be something to do with Jimmy?" Lew is also Jimmy Hardy's agent.
"I don't think so," Brian replied. Brian's talked to Jimmy on the phone a couple of times since we got out here, but he's been avoiding seeing him for a couple of reasons I won't go into right now.
Anyway, Brian got dressed -- and he looked really hot in casual dark blue Armani trousers and an ivory shirt -- and drove to the meeting. He was gone all afternoon and when he came back he said, "You'll never fucking believe what that was all about!"
You know 'The Eastern Front'? That novel about World War II that was such a bestseller two years ago? Brock Santo is directing the film version and Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt were supposed to star in it. Then Kidman dropped out and they got Simone Merle (she of the gigantic pouty lips! LOL!). Now Brad Pitt has suddenly dropped out and shooting is supposed to begin at the end of July. The bottom line is that Brian's been offered the lead! I was fucking freaking out! This is going to be one of the biggest pictures of next year! They're going to start filming in Hollywood and then have location shoots in London, Rome, Berlin, and Prague!
Brian was in a total daze all Wednesday evening. 'Red River' is going to be a big movie, especially with Eastwood and the other great people in the cast, but 'The Eastern Front' is THE picture everyone is talking about! When it's announced that Brian got the lead, it's going to be the biggest news in town! I mean, Brian taking over for Brad Pitt! This is HUGE! It's all official, but nothing has been announced yet, so try not to tell everybody and his brother, okay, Em?
"What do you think of THAT?" says Em, smugly. "Simone Merle! I LOVE her! AND her big lips!"
"Wow!" Ma says. "Even I've heard of that book. 'The Eastern Front.' Vic was reading it. It's really long!"
"Brock Santo is a pretty high-powered director," I say. "He makes all those big budget epics. And Simone Merle is no slouch, either. I heard she was up for the new 'Wonder Woman' remake."
"You think Sunshine'll go to Rome and all those other places with Brian?" Ma says. "That would be fantastic!"
"A movie like that could take months to make," I point out. "If he goes on location with Brian he can kiss the fall semester at PIFA goodbye. Maybe even the whole year."
"Shall I continue?" says Emmett, impatiently. "There's a little more."
I had wanted to send this before we left L.A., but I didn't get a chance. It's now late Thursday night (actually, it's now officially Friday) and we're finally settled into our spot on the location site in Arizona.
At 7:00 a.m. this morning Whit, the driver from the studio, arrived with the RV. The thing is a monster! I don't know how he got it around some of the tight turns on Creekside Canyon Road. The first thing Brian did was check to see if it had a big bed. It does -- queen-size! LOL! Unfortunately, there's not much room for anything else in the bedroom. But the RV has a living room, kitchenette, desk for my computer, toilet, shower, etc. It even has a flat screen TV! We loaded all our stuff in it and it's going to be a snug fit for the two of us to live in this thing for an entire month. But Brian reminded me that it's a lot bigger than his boat and we've gotten along okay in those tight quarters.
The last thing Whit did was hook up my P.T. Cruiser to the back of the RV. I never thought we'd get down the canyon towing that car, but we did. I'll be glad to have my car here on location. That way while Brian is filming I can do some exploring in the area. I brought my camera and I have my computer, of course, so I plan to keep busy and not waste the whole time I'm here sitting around waiting for Brian to get back. He'll have enough on his mind without worrying about entertaining me in the middle of the Sonora Desert! This is amazing country for an artist and I want to take full advantage of it while we're here.
Anyway, the drive from L.A. was really long and I'm exhausted. Brian is already asleep. In the morning they're having a meeting of the cast. The actors who are going to be at Cowboy Camp will meet the wranglers and get more information about what's involved with that. I think Cowboy Camp sounds really cool, but Brian says it'll be a pain in the ass -- literally! I hope he gets a good horse. And I hope I'll get a chance to do some riding, too.
That's all for now, Em. I'll write more soon.
"That's so exciting!" Ma sighs. "Maybe Brian will bring us all out for the premiere again, like he did for 'The Olympian'!"
"Um... Ma?" I tap her on the arm. "I think our food is ready." Barney, who's on the grill today, is pointing to the Pink Plate Specials that have backed up while Ma was listening to Emmett read.
"Keep your jockstrap on!" Ma says to him. "I'm coming!"
Em and I get our fish and chips and talk about Justin's letter while we eat. Emmett is so pleased for Brian and Justin that he's practically bursting. But I feel strange. Torn. I want them to be happy. I really do. But... another part of me is so jealous I can't stand it.
Maybe if I felt happier myself, then I wouldn't begrudge Brian and Justin their happiness. I should be happy. I have everything I've always wanted -- a successful partner, a son, my own business, money in the bank, a beautiful house. Ma and Uncle Vic are both in good health, and Vic and Tim are happy in their relationship. And Ma even went on a date -- at least I think it was a date -- with some cop who has been coming into the diner.
So why don't I feel happy? What the fuck is wrong with me?
I finish lunch and thank Emmett for inviting me. Em and I don't see enough of each other anymore. And it was nice to hear the news about Brian. I kiss Ma goodbye and start walking back to the store.
I'm lost in thought, almost bumping into people on the street. Then I look up. And there he is, in front of the Liberty Bookshop.
When my heart does a triple flip inside my chest I understand why the fuck I'm not happy. It's because I'm still in love with Ben. Not David. But Ben.
I try to duck out of sight, but it's impossible on the narrow sidewalk. He spots me. "Michael!" he calls out, waving. And smiling. Like he's really happy to see me.
"Hey, Ben," I say. I feel shy talking to him. Like we never lived together. Never made love so many times. Never thought about spending the rest of our lives together. This is the way I would feel talking to a total stranger. "So -- what's up?"
He grins at me. Ben has always had a smile that gets me right in the gut. "I was finalizing things with Dan, the manager. My book on Ron Rosenblum is coming out next week and I'm doing a signing here on Monday afternoon. It would be wonderful if you could come."
"Monday," I repeat. "I'll try to make it." I pause. "But things have been pretty busy at the store. And stuff at home. David's practice. And Hank is at St. James' Academy."
Ben nods. "I didn't know that. It's a fine school."
The door of the bookstore opens and a lanky, red-haired guy comes out. He looks so familiar. Then I realize who it is. The guy who was so hot for Brian last year. The guy who Justin had a shouting match with at Woody's. Alan something. Alan Wray -- that's it.
I watch as he goes over to Ben and snakes his arm around his waist. "Did you miss me?" he purrs, making a stupid face. A face he probably thinks is cute. Or sexy. Whatever.
I feel my heart sink right into the ground.
"Michael, do you know Alan?" Ben asks. Now he's smiling at this guy. Smiling at him the way he used to smile at me.
"Hi," I say. "I think we've seen each other around."
Alan extends his hand and I shake it limply. "Nice to meet you. You're a friend of Brian Kinney, aren't you?"
"Yeah," I say tightly. "His BEST friend." And then an awkward silence hangs in the air.
"Alan was the T.A. in my film class," Ben offers. He can feel the tension building between me and this Alan and he doesn't like it. "He also helped me with the research on my book on Ron."
"Among other things I helped you with," Alan adds smugly. He gives Ben's waist a little squeeze. "Hey, we better get going or we'll be late."
"Of course," Ben replies. "It was good to see you, Michael. I'm glad you're doing so well."
"You, too, Ben," I answer. Then I watch them as they walk away.
That's how it feels. Everyone is walking away.
And I'm still standing in one spot, unable to move.
Continue on to "Ingenue".
©Gaedhal, September 2006.
Posted September 14, 2006.