This is Chapter 66 of the "Queer Realities" series.
The narrators are Michael Novotny and Tim Reilly, and features Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Vic Grassi, Emmett Honeycutt.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: How can you do the right thing? Or know what the right thing is? Pittsburgh, May, 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit.
"I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories.
Remember the good times that we had?
I let them slip away from us when things got bad.
How clearly I first saw you smilin' in the sun,
Wanna feel your warmth upon me, I wanna be the one.
I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories...."
I was up all last night, thinking. I wanted to talk to David about what kept running through my head, but I couldn't. Because I knew what he would say. That it's always about Brian. That I need to get over my obsession with Brian. But it's more than that. It's not only about Brian. Ben would understand that. I wish I could talk to Ben about this. Because it's about him, too. And about me. And about other people.
I get out of the new Toyota Camry that David just bought me and walk up to the door of Brian's building on the corner of Fuller and Tremont. I stand there, still thinking, for a couple of minutes. What am I going to say to my best friend? My best friend who isn't even speaking to me. Brian hasn't returned any of my calls since he came to my store last Saturday and bitched me out. That was exactly one week ago. A whole goddamn week! Even while he was in rehab we spoke on the phone every couple of days. It's been a long time since I haven't spoken to Brian for an entire week. Not since he ran away with Ron...
I know he's going to leave town soon. I don't really know if it's tomorrow or a week from tomorrow. All I know is that he's going.
Brian is leaving. Leaving Pittsburgh. For good, he says. And it looks like he's planning to leave without even talking to me. I can't let that happen! Not after all the years we've been friends and all we've been through together.
Ma said Jennifer Taylor told her that Brian is really serious about selling his building. He even changed the locks and the codes, so I can't just walk in and confront him. I have to hope that he lets me in. So I take a deep breath and press the intercom button.
"What?" Brian's voice comes blasting through the tinny little speaker. Pissed off. Hoarse, like he's been smoking too much. Or screaming too much. Or doing something too much.
"It's me," I say. "Can I come up?" My own voice sounds weird to me. Muffled. Tentative. Unsure of how he's going to welcome me.
There's a pause and for a second I think he's not going to let me inside. But then I hear an abrupt "Okay." The door buzzes and releases the lock.
I get into the elevator. How many times have I ridden this elevator up to the loft? Hundreds of times, I guess, since the day Brian moved in here almost ten years ago. So much time has passed. So many things have happened here. So many drunken talks. So many pizzas and bags of chips eaten, so many bottles of beer downed, and so many joints shared. I even saved Brian's life here when he decided that scarfing would be a good way to celebrate his 30th birthday. But that's what best friends do. They talk. They hang out. They save each other's lives. That was me and Brian. Best friends forever. The way I thought it would always be.
The elevator clanks to a halt at the top floor and I go to Brian's door, tapping lightly.
The door rolls open and I see Brian's face. For one second he can't hide his emotions. His surprise. His disappointment. His sorrow.
But he covers it all up immediately. That stoic mask goes right back into place. "Mikey," he states.
"Who did you think it was going to be?" I ask. But I already know the answer.
I saw Justin yesterday. I was walking down Liberty Avenue on my way to see Ma at the diner. He was coming out of the Liberty Pharmacy, clutching a small paper sack. Probably his allergy medicine. When I was living at the loft last year, I remember how he needed to take those blue tablets every day or else he'd be up half the night sneezing. Now it's spring again and all the trees and flowers are starting to bloom. Yeah, allergies.
Justin stopped in front of the drugstore. He looked at me. His eyes were ringed with red, but they were also empty, like he didn't know me. Or didn't want to know me.
"Justin, are you okay?" I asked. I'm supposed to be mad at him, so I don't know why I spoke to him. Maybe because we're in the same boat, in a way. The same boat we were in a year ago when Brian had run off to L.A. and we both felt fucking lost.
Lost. That's how Justin looked.
He didn't say anything to me. He just stared through me. But the way he looked scared the shit out of me. He was so fucking blank. Like he was shell-shocked. Empty. Going through the motions of living. There was nothing alive inside of him. Only emptiness.
I've seen that same look twice before. The first time was on Brian's face when he sat in the hallway of the hospital after Justin was bashed. The second time was when Brian came over to the store last week. Lost. Same looks. Same reasons.
"Justin? I asked if you're all right," I repeated. "Won't you at least answer me?"
He blinked, but he didn't say anything. He only clutched his paper bag tighter.
"Have you talked to Brian?" I asked. He flinched and closed his eyes.
Justin was in a lot of fucking pain. Maybe it's his own fault, maybe it isn't. But Brian is in pain, too. They both are. I can see that now. Maybe things are fucked up between them, but it's not going to get better if they both pretend it doesn't matter!
"I know I'm the last person you want to listen to," I continued. "But it's not too late for you and Brian. I mean it. It's not too late!"
Then Justin's face changed. His eyes hardened and I thought he was going to say something to me. But then he pushed by roughly. He hurried away, almost sprinting. Leaving me behind on the sidewalk.
He was running away. And so is Brian. In two different directions.
Since then I can't stop thinking about how Justin looked. How he stared right through me. That chilled me. I thought I hated him, but I don't think I do anymore. I can't now. Because I understand how he feels. And how Brian feels. Because I'm feeling it, too. Vacant. Like I'm going through the fucking motions of my own life. Walking around without really being alive. Maybe that's what Justin saw in my face. If he even saw me at all.
And that's really why I'm here.
"No one, Mikey," Brian says woodenly. "I wasn't expecting anyone." Then he walks away from me. "Fuck it. It doesn't matter anymore."
"Maybe it does," I say, following him inside. "I think it does."
Brian stops and faces me. "Why the fuck are you here?" he asks bluntly.
"To see you!" I tell him honestly. "Because you won't return my calls. And because you're my best friend! Do I need another reason?"
Brian shrugs and goes over to the fridge. He takes out a bottle of water and swigs it. He doesn't offer me anything.
I look around the loft. There are cardboard boxes everywhere, some empty, some half-filled. And others closed and taped shut. I walk over and look at those. There's a name written on the top of one of the boxes in black marker: Justin. It's all his stuff. Packed up and ready to be taken away.
"So, you're really going," I say. And that's when it hits me hard, right in the gut. Brian really IS leaving. It's not a joke or a threat. It's not even like when he went off to L.A. with Ron. At least then he kept the loft and the Jeep. And Justin was here, watching over everything. Keeping the lights on. Brian may have left town, but he didn't leave US. Not in his head. Not in his heart. But now....
"Do you think I have any reason to stay, Mikey?" Brian says softly. He sets down the water bottle and stalks away. Up the steps to the bedroom.
I trail behind him. "Yes!" I insist. "A ton of reasons! Like your son, and now your daughter, too. And all your friends. Like me. Like your whole fucking life, Brian! Everything that's real! It's all here -- in the Pitts!"
But Brian shakes his head. Piles of clothes are neatly arranged on the bed. Shirts. Underwear. Socks. All carefully sorted out. So fucking anal. So fucking like Brian. He opens a dresser drawer and begins pulling out sweaters, one by one, obsessively shaking them out and then re-folding and placing them on the bed. "You want any of these? I won't be needing a lot of heavy sweaters out in California."
"No, Brian," I say in exasperation. "I don't want your old clothes! I want you to listen to me for five minutes!"
"Your loss," he declares. "My old clothes are better than that shit the Doc is buying for you to wear." He reaches over and fingers my cotton shirt. It isn't fancy, but it's new. And I think it looks okay. "Where did you get this piece of crap? The Men's Department at Target?"
"We aren't talking about me or my fucking clothes!" I shove his hand away. "We're talking about YOU!"
"Then say what you came here to say, Mikey, and I'll try to pay attention," he says, condescendingly. I never realized before how much Brian condescends to me. How much he treats me like a fucking 14 year old. Like nothing has changed between us since we were in junior high. Like it's still the goddamn Brian and Mikey Show. "But then you'll have to go. I have a lot to do before I leave for L.A."
"Yeah," I say. "I can see that. You have a lot to do. Like packing up your whole fucking life and running away! That's what you're good at, Brian. Running away! You've done it so many times before with such great success!"
"Only twice before," he corrects. "First, when I was 16. And then with Ron. That's not that many. And I'm not running away this time. I'm moving. There's a difference. No one is chasing me and I'm not running from anything. I'm leaving because it's MY choice. It's what I need to do at this point in my fucking life."
"You're still running away!" I argue. "Whether you call it that or not, Brian. That's what it is. Running away from things you don't want to face." I hesitate. He's not looking at me. He seems engrossed by sorting out his goddamn sweaters. Folding them. Laying them on the bed. Smoothing them. But I know he's listening to every word. "Running away from Justin."
"Shut the fuck up, Mikey!" Brian's voice is frigid. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."
"I think I do know," I reply. "I've been thinking about a lot of things lately. Thinking about how you treat me. How you can turn me off whenever it suits you. Ignore me and pretend I don't mean anything to you. That hurts, Brian. It fucking hurts! But seeing you do the same thing to Justin -- that's really low. That's a shitty thing to do to him. I'm your friend, but he's your lover! I know you still love him."
"Since when does that matter?" he replies bitterly. "That and a fucking nickel will get you a ride on the merry-go-round. And not much else."
"He loves you," I declare. "You know he does. But you're still going to walk away. That's cowardly, Brian. Fucking ball-less."
Brian whips around and glares at me. "Why do you suddenly give a shit about what happens to Justin? I thought you fucking hated him? I thought he was a cheating little sneak who played me for a fool? Why so forgiving now, Mikey? Are you trying for sainthood? Giving the good Father Tim a run for his fucking money in the absolution game? Well, forget it, my son! Go the fuck in peace! A-fucking-men!"
"I don't think that's funny," I reply slowly, trying to figure out exactly how to say this to him. Because I've been thinking about this. A lot. Thinking about Brian. And Justin. And me. And about me and David. And Ben, too. About the choices you make. The mistakes you can't undo. And the ones that you can. "People make mistakes. Sometimes you don't understand the consequences of what you've done until later. You wake up one morning and see how you've fucked yourself over. And also what you've done to other people. But by then it's too late to change it. Too late to fix it. So you have to live with it. Maybe for your whole life. You have to learn how to survive."
"Sounds like trouble in Paradise," Brian sneers. "Is something rotten in the Novotny-Cameron Love Nest? Sick of playing the Little Woman already, Mikey? Is Dr. Dave bossing you around again? Telling you what's wrong with you and how to shape up so you can be his perfect little wife and mother for his brat?"
"This isn't about David!" I tell him. "This is about you! But if you want to know the truth, I am having second thoughts about my relationship with David. I keep thinking about... about Ben." That's the simple truth. When I'm with David, I'm always thinking about Ben. I can't stop myself.
"I knew it," Brian snorts. "It didn't work out with the Doc the first time and it won't work out now. He hasn't changed -- and neither have you!"
"Maybe not, but at least I'm trying. I'm living with David," I remind him. And remind myself. "I've made a commitment to him. And that means something to me."
"A commitment?" Brian narrows his eyes at me. "Promises are like fortune cookies, Mikey -- made to be broken. Like... like... fucking hearts." He touches his throat, as if he expects to find his heart charm there. But it's not. He isn't wearing it anymore. "That's what I've learned about fucking relationships! If you want to be with David, if you really love him, then more power to you. Stay with him and be a happy little wife. But if you don't -- then get the fuck out! Go to Ben and tell him how you feel! It's your fucking life. If you want to waste it being unhappy, then that's your problem."
"You mean like you're about to waste YOUR life being unhappy?" I retort.
I watch Brian standing there, holding a beige cashmere sweater. It looks new and expensive. He grips it tightly, crushing the soft wool. I can see the tension in his hands, but his beautiful face is blank. The way Justin's was blank. Like there's nothing left inside.
"I think you better get out, Michael," he finally says. "Now."
I go up to Brian and grab his arm. I can feel him flinch at my touch. "Maybe Justin made a mistake. But you've made mistakes, too. So have I. So what if he was fucking around with that Dylan? You fucked around with Ron and God knows how many other guys! Ben cheated on me. And you saw David in the baths that time. And... and it wasn't the only time, either. David was fucking some guy out in Portland when we were having trouble. But that wasn't what broke us up in the end. It was because I didn't love him enough to fight to make it work. And he didn't love me enough to try to stop me from leaving."
Brian laughs, but it's a humorless, cynical laugh. "The perfect Dr. Dave? Cheating? Who the fuck does he think he is -- me?"
"That's not the point!" I want to yell at Brian. Shake him. Maybe shaking him will shake up something inside me. "I fucked things up with David and then I fucked things up with Ben. I know that! I don't care anymore that he and Ron fucked! I really don't! But back then I was stupid and stubborn and I let him go. Then when David came back into town... I took the easy way out. It was simple to fall back into being with David. To let him be the strong one and run my fucking miserable little life. To let him make the decisions I'm afraid to make. Because that would mean I'd have to grow up. And I don't know if I can do that, Brian! I don't know how to grow up."
"You can do it, Michael," he says softly, pulling me close to him and enveloping me in his strong arms. I lay my head against Brian's chest. This is where I've wanted to be for most of my life -- in Brian's arms. But it's not my place. And it never will be. I may not know much, but I know that. "You have to do it. As much as I don't give a fuck about Dave, it's not fair to him. Or to his kid. Or to Ben. I only want you to be happy. I really do."
"And I want you to be happy, too, Brian," I reply. "Last year, when you were in Los Angeles, I told Justin to go out there with Lindsay. I told him to go after what he wanted. I told him that I'd never had the courage to really go after what... what I wanted. I didn't have the fucking nerve. You know what I mean, Brian?"
He swallows. "Yeah, I know, Michael." He nods. He's always known how I feel about him. How much I love him. And we've both always known that he's never going to love me the way I've always wanted him to. The way I've always known in my heart was impossible.
"Then don't lose YOUR nerve, Brian. Don't run away. Don't pretend that nothing here means anything to you. And don't pretend that you don't love Justin, no matter what he's done. Maybe I was wrong about Justin and Dylan! Maybe I've been wrong about a lot of things! I don't know, and neither do you. But don't run away without talking to him. Don't leave without finding out how you both really feel!" I pull back and look Brian in the eye. "I saw your face when you opened your door. You thought it was Justin who'd be standing there, didn't you? Admit it! That's who you wanted to be there. Who you hoped would be there. And this is where he should be! With you! Don't let it all end with a couple of fucking cardboard boxes filled with his old tee shirts!"
Brian blinks and for a moment I think he's going to tell me something. That he's going to admit how he feels. But he takes a deep breath. Steadies himself. Pulls it all deeper inside.
"It's time for you to go now, Michael," he says.
He takes my hand and leads me down the steps and to the door. I notice that Gus's air mattress is pushed behind the living room furniture. A dark blue sheet is thrown over it, with two pillows on top.
"Is Gus coming over tonight? Is that why you want me to go?" I ask.
"No," he answers, his voice weary. "No one's coming over. I just got sick of sleeping on the sofa."
I look up at the bedroom. At the big platform bed covered with clothing waiting to be packed.
Brian's bed. And the bed that Justin was sleeping in. With Dylan, I assume.
No wonder Brian wants to escape from this place. Maybe he's right, after all. Maybe he's been hurt too badly. Maybe we all have. Maybe there's nothing left to fix. Nothing but memories to hang on to until they finally fade away. If they ever do.
I kiss Brian on the cheek and leave.
David and Hank are expecting me home for dinner.
After the 5:00 Mass at St. Christopher's on Sunday, Vic and I usually stop and get something to eat. Sometimes Emmett goes with us. Sometimes one of the other men we know from the Poz Support Group will come along. Rodney or Bernie or Cliff, usually. But today it's only Emmett, and we end up going to the Liberty Diner. The Sunday Pink Plate Special this week is a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. Plain food, but good food.
"I've tried to get through to Justin every day this week," Emmett complains as we wait for our dinner. "But he won't get back to me! I feel like marching over to his mother's place, knocking on the door, and giving him a good, hard shake when he answers!"
"Maybe you should leave the boy alone," Vic says. "I think everyone should leave both Brian and Justin alone. They both need time to think things through. So give them a little space. Let them work everything out in private and not in the middle of Liberty Avenue!"
"But Michael told me that Brian is packing up and getting ready to leave town!" Emmett says. "He was over there yesterday and the place was filled with boxes." Emmett leans forward, conspiratorially. "Brian's selling his building, including the loft and Justin's studio. That's serious, honey! That means he's not planning on coming back here!"
Vic shakes his head. "Brian is always leaving town 'for good' -- but he always comes back. Always. I've known that boy since he was a teenager and I understand why he wants to run away. But I also know that he can't stay away. This is his home. Michael and Deb are here. I'm here. Gus and Charity and Lindsay are all here. This is where Brian feels safe. I can't see that ever changing."
"But if he and Justin really are finished, then maybe he means it this time," Emmett offers.
"I don't believe THAT, either," Vic scoffs. "Brian might think he's finished with Justin, but that boy will never let him go. That kid is like a bulldog -- once he gets his jaws around something, he's not going to give it up! Ever!"
"I don't know," says Emmett. "What about that guy Justin's been seeing?"
Vic frowns. "What guy?"
"Dylan Burke," says Emmett. "He's some big athlete at Carnegie Mellon. A baseball player. He and Justin...." Emmett glances around to see if anyone is eavesdropping. Then he raises his eyebrows and lowers his voice. "They've been doing the nasty behind Brian's back for quite some time. And that isn't all Justin's been up to. He's been quite a fixture in the backroom at Babylon the past couple months."
Vic shrugs. "I can't see Brian giving a damn if it's only fucking."
"Since when has Justin been into 'only fucking'?" Emmett counters. "That boy is in big trouble. I know he is. He's not in the backroom getting fucked because he's enjoying it. I've seen him in there and he's NOT happy! He's punishing himself. I've tried to speak to him about it, but he freezes up. It has something to do with that Dylan Burke. It may look like he's the one coming between Justin and Brian, but there's something wrong there. Something very, very wrong. I told Justin that he needed to discuss his problems with someone. Maybe even see a counselor."
"Brian did nothing but see counselors for the whole time he was in rehab, and that doesn't seem to have fixed whatever their problem is," Vic says decisively. "I say that they need to be locked in a room together so they can fight it out and then fuck it out. That's the way those two boys work. That's the only thing they understand."
"Speaking of rehab," says Emmett, turning to me. "I know somebody who's thinking of going in for treatment. Is there a good place in the Pitts? Or nearby?"
I haven't been saying much this evening, especially on the subject of Brian and Justin. There isn't much I can say. My feelings about Brian are far from dispassionate, and Justin was coming to me for counseling. That is, he was until he and Michael had that confrontation in my office. Justin hasn't been back since.
"What's this person's main problem?" I ask, moving directly into counseling mode.
Emmett sighs heavily. "Crystal meth."
"That's a hard one," I say. "Worse than heroin in a lot of ways."
"It's Ted, isn't it?" Vic asks. "Michael told Debbie that he was hanging out with a bunch of crystal queens!"
"Yes," Emmett confirms. "It's Ted. I saw him last night at Babylon. He was completely wasted. I managed to get him away from those creeps he was with and took him home. We had a little talk -- the first one in a long time. Ted admitted to me that his relationship with Lady Crystal is out of control. Isn't that the first step? Admitting you have a problem?"
I nod. "Yes, Emmett. That's the first step. You have to admit to your addiction and acknowledge that it's out of your control."
"He did that!" Emmett says excitedly. "Do you think you can help him, Tim? It's not too late, is it?"
I gaze at Emmett. He's so hopeful. So eager. He wants to help Justin. He wants to help Ted. He told me once that when he was a boy he wanted to be a priest. I bet he would have been a good one. Better than I was.
"No, it's not too late. It's never too late," I assert. And I believe that. It's never too late to redeem yourself. "If Ted is really serious about rehab, I can contact someone and get him into a facility as soon as possible. There's a good place here in Pittsburgh and another one in Wheeling, which isn't that far. Unless he wants to go to the place where Brian was. But that's a lot farther away."
"I don't think Teddy cares, just as long as it's good," says Emmett. "And as long as it works. I just want the old Ted back. I hate what he's turned into!"
"It isn't up to you, Emmett," I remind him. "It's up to Ted. He has to want to be the old Ted again. HE has to hate what he's turned into."
Emmett reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. "Thanks, Tim! I'll never forget this! You're a life saver!"
"Isn't he?" Vic says, smiling. He puts his arm around me and hugs me close.
All this praise. It feels so hollow to me. I haven't done anything at all for Ted. I'll do what I can to get him into rehab, just as I did for Brian. But that's only what anyone would do to help another human being.
But what have I really done for Brian? Or for Justin?
Nothing. Nothing at all. When I know that both of them are in pain. And when I know the reason why they are in pain.
I assured Justin I'd never tell anyone what he confided to me about what happened between him and Dylan. That I'd never relate to anyone the guilt he was feeling or the anguish he was in. About how he was drowning in confusion. Now it looks like both Justin and Brian are drowning. Unable to talk to each other. Unable to help each other. And that's the way it will end for them.
Can I let that happen?
But I promised Justin. I may not be a priest anymore, but I take that promise of confidentiality very seriously. It's like a vow. It's what enables me to be a counselor. What enables people to trust me with their deepest secrets.
Unless... unless I think that Justin might harm himself.
But isn't he harming himself right now? Emmett says he's punishing himself. Allowing his body to be used in the backroom. Perhaps exposing himself to HIV and other diseases. Isn't that being in danger?
What can I say? What should I do?
I've broken my vows before. I broke them with Brian all those years ago. I broke them selfishly, because I wanted Brian, while telling myself that I was helping him.
How much damage did I do back then to an already damaged boy? I still pray about it every night. Dear God, tell me how I can ever make it up to him.
Maybe this is the way. Maybe now is the time.
We leave the diner. Emmett says he's going to see Ted. Vic and I head home.
But I can't get Brian and Justin out of my mind.
Dear God, tell me what to do. And tell me soon. Before it really is too late.
"I'm so tired but I can't sleep,
Standin' on the edge of something much too deep.
It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word,
We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard.
But I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories.
I'm so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose.
Clinging to a past that doesn't let me chose.
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night,
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light.
And I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by,
Weep not for the memories."
(Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, and Dave Merenda)
Continue on to "Day After Day".
©Gaedhal, February 2006.
Posted February 27, 2006.