LIKE PITTSBURGH

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter 18 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Outtakes II" , the previous chapter.

The narrator is Michael Novotny, and features Justin Taylor, Vic Grassi, Debbie Novotny, Emmett Honeycutt, Jennifer Taylor, Tim Reilly.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: It's April 2002 and Michael is worried about Justin facing an anniversary alone.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.

My Uncle Vic came by the store today. I was really surprised because he almost never stops here. Comic books are a little out of his line of interest -- old Hollywood movies are closer to the mark.

No wonder Vic's fascinated with Brian. He cut something out of a gossip column in the National Enquirer the other day. It was really something about Jimmy Hardy and his wife and some AIDS benefit they were hosting at their fancy house in Beverly Hills. But Brian's name was mentioned! Right in the column along with a bunch of movie stars. It even said 'co-star of the next Jimmy Hardy production, 'The Olympian,' Brian Kinney attended with the lovely Diane Rhys.' I have no idea who the fuck the lovely Diane Rhys is but I can't believe that Brian would go on some fucking pretend date with some woman. It has to be a publicity thing. But who'd think Brian -- of all people -- would go along with it?

And then when we were watching the Academy Awards I thought that Vic and my mom would explode when they saw Brian in the background during the Red Carpet fashion review they have on cable right before the show. I thought I saw that Ron Rosenblum there, too -- at least Brian wasn't pretending to take some big-titted starlet. They were interviewing Jimmy Hardy -- he was going to be a presenter, and Brian was kind of loitering in the crowd behind Hardy and his wife, waiting to go in. Vic was furious he didn't have his tape in the machine.

Of course, Emmett -- always prepared -- taped the entire thing and made Vic a copy. That's pretty much what got us speaking to each other again. I mean, who can stay mad at Emmett for long? He's always doing something nice like that. And the fact that it was for Vic made it even nicer.

Then, later, during the actual broadcast we saw Brian again for just a couple of seconds at least three times. He was obviously in a really good seat in the VIP section -- which figures if he was with Jimmy Hardy's party. But they didn't identify him, of course. He's still a nobody in that crowd.

But the next day at Woody's Brian's 'bad reputation' made a fucking 180 turn. Now, suddenly he's the guy who was everyone's 'best friend'!

"Did you SEE my good friend Brian on the Oscarcast last night? We have been THIS close for years and years!" How many times did I have to hear THAT one? And from people who were NOT his friends -- not even acquaintances. Maybe, at best, tricks -- but that's ALL. And these were the same morons who were trashing him only a few weeks ago. Figure people out, will you? It makes me see red.

Ma had wanted to invite Justin to come over to watch the show, but he told her he had class the next day and wanted to work on his projects. I'm glad he didn't come. It would have been damned awkward for him to see Brian all dressed up and looking so great, surrounded by all those shiny people. He really must be in his element, having a wonderful time out there, partying and hanging with celebrities -- while Justin is dragging himself around like doom and despair half the time. I feel sorry for the kid. He hasn't been very Sunshine-y recently.

And then my mom reminded me one day in April when I come to the house to drop off some stuff for Vic.

"Jennifer Taylor stopped by the diner yesterday and we had a little talk."

Justin's mom. Every time she sees me she gives me this really tight-lipped smile like she's forcing herself not to spit at me. She knows I'm Brian's friend and always will be.

"Jennifer is still trying to get Sunshine to see a therapist."

"Fat lot of good that will do him! Why don't you women just let him forget all that and get on with his life?"

"Because he's NOT getting on with his life, Michael. As long as he's living in that loft -- living in the shadow of goddamn BRIAN -- he'll never get on with his life! You should know that more than anyone."

"And what is THAT supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, sweetie -- I'm just sayin' -- that, well...."

"Why don't you just can it about Brian? To me AND to Justin?"

Then she got serious. "I can't 'can it' right now. Jennifer is his mother and she's concerned. Do you know what day Saturday is?"

I looked up at the gigantic Gay Pride calendar she has tacked on the kitchen wall. "Sure. Saturday the 13th. So?"

"And do you know what it was a year ago?"

"Friday the 13th?"

"And?"

"I wish I knew what you were getting at, Ma."

"A year ago on that day you were supposed to be leaving for Portland. With David."

Shit! "Oh my God. Was that a year ago?"

She nodded.

I looked back at the calendar and realized that today -- that very day -- was Brian's 31st birthday. I'd been so preoccupied with the store and everything, I just let it slip my mind. Or else I wanted to forget it as much as I'm sure he's forgetting it. But I can't forget everything else that surrounded it. Especially the image of.... No, that one I have to put out of my mind for good.

"Anyway, I'm having a little part Saturday night. For Justin. Vic is bringing a friend of his. And Jennifer, of course. And you. If you want to invite Ben -- that's okay with me, honey. And I'd like it if you'd ask Emmett. And Ted."

"This doesn't sound like a party -- it sounds like an intervention."

"It's just something to let Sunshine know that he's not alone. If he can get over this hump -- then he can go on from there."

"I don't know, Ma...."

"Please come."

"We'll see. And Ben can't do it -- he'll be at a conference in Philadelphia this weekend. But I'll call Emmett. He's always up for a 'soiree' -- but I'm not inviting Ted! I'm not ready to deal with him -- yet. And I doubt that Justin is, either."

"That's okay, sweetie. That would be fine." She started to get some pots out to make dinner. "And I really want to say that I'm glad Ben is feeling better. I mean, after he had that little scare."

At least she was acknowledging it. "Thanks. And I'm happy you and Vic came to see him in the hospital. It helped. Really."

"I'm happy, too, honey. I just don't want to see you hurt -- in any way."

"You can't protect me from the world, Ma. No one can." Anymore, I'm thinking. There's no superhero who can save me from the kind of shit I have to deal with now, as an adult. Captain Astro really is dead.

That got me thinking, as I headed for the store. Maybe I could create a superhero who could try to deal with some of these issues? Maybe Justin could help me? I know everything there is to know about comics and he knows all about art. It's something we will have to talk about.

I also think about Brian's birthday. I really can't get that image out of my mind. Ever. Of him at the loft. At how little it seems to take, sometimes, to push him close to the edge. Maybe even over the edge. And what kind of escape hatch does he have out there in California? When he might have come to me to talk it out? Or just for some silent understanding? Nobody, I bet. That worries me.

***

I was shocked when Saturday night came and Justin seemed fine with the whole idea of the 'party.'

We were sitting in the store and he was helping me put some comic books into plastic bags when he said, "You are coming tonight, aren't you?"

"To my mother's? Of course."

"Good. You should be there." He folded over a flap and taped it down.

"Are you okay with this thing tonight? Really?"

"Yeah. I'm all right. I think it means more to Deb and my mom than to me. To me it's just a day -- a date that will live in infamy, I guess." I'm pleased he can kind of joke about it. I don't think I could.

"Friday the 13th."

"Ironic, wasn't it?"

"Is your mother still after you to see a therapist?"

"Always. But I just blow her off. It's a waste of time."

"Are you still having those nightmares?" I hate to ask, but they freaked me out when I was staying at the loft. Sometimes I'd wake up and he'd be grabbing me and yelling.

"Sometimes. But I can deal with them."

We close up shop and he drives me in the Jeep over to Ma's. The weather has been like summer lately -- sunny and warm and not at all like a typical Pittsburgh spring. "I'm afraid we'll pay for this nice weather later on."

"Yeah, we'll probably have snow in July!"

While we were driving I talked to Justin about my comic book idea. He seemed interested. It has real possibilities.

"Is there such a thing as a gay superhero? Really? I mean, other than Batman and Robin and they are SOOO in the closet. Or the Batcave, rather."

We both laughed. "There are some, but we could be making a statement by having one with the main focus on his queer identity."

"Now you sound just like Ben! 'Queer identity'! Jeez!"

"Well, you know what they say about sleeping with someone and picking up all their sayings and habits?"

Justin stopped smiling. "Right." He didn't say anything more until we got to the house.

Emmett greeted us at the door. He had been over all afternoon 'helping' Mrs. Taylor and Ma with the preparations. It was awkward between Justin and him for the first few minutes, but then he grabbed Justin is a big hug and wouldn't let go. It's hard to hold anything against Emmett when he has you in a headlock!

Vic had a friend of his over. Tim Reilly. I remember him from way back. He went to parochial school with Vic and Ma and later became a priest. It's a long story.

Anyway, Tim eventually left when he couldn't reconcile his gayness to being in the priesthood anymore. That had to be more than ten years ago. Eventually, he got into a relationship with a guy who developed AIDS and later died. He's HIV-positive, like Ben, but I don't think he's had any setbacks yet. I first met him when he was running a halfway house, working with drug-addicted teenagers -- not that that was ever a problem for me. Now, he's a social worker and works with People Living with AIDS. He got into that when his lover was dying. I'm sure that's why Vic has invited him -- to talk to me about Ben.

So, I was surprised when Tim spent almost the whole evening talking to Justin. I remember that he was good with teenagers. Obviously. That was his specialty -- talking to troubled kids. I guess he's like a kind of therapist. Oh, Vic is a sneaky one. He got Justin talking to a therapist and he doesn't even know it. Like I said -- sneaky.

My mom laid out a lot of food and wine -- her typical get-together. But, being together there, we were all very aware of who was missing. Ted, for one. And Brian.

Emmett had a little too much of the wine and started his interpretation of the world according to 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'

"That old TV series?" Justin said. He looked skeptical.

"Everything in the Universe can be explained by the Laws of Mary! Like, the Credo of Chuckles the Clown."

"What's THAT?"

" 'A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.' "

We all cracked up.

"You may laugh, but I've made it MY philosophy of life!" He pointed to me. "And then there is the theory of True Friendship, as explicated by Mary's friend, Georgette. It's especially relevant to us in this fair city!"

"Why is that?" Justin was fascinated.

"Because, according to Georgette, True Friendship, like that between Mary and Rhoda -- or between Michael and Brian..." Emmett pauses, but the name gets said without the world ending. "... is like Pittsburgh."

"Like Pittsburgh?" Now he had my mother interested. "How the fuck is friendship like Pittsburgh?"

"Because Pittsburgh sits at the convergence of three rivers. It's where the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River -- which are just poor, plain little rivers on their own -- meet and together they form the mighty Ohio River. And that's what friendship does -- takes two small people and makes them into something bigger and better than themselves all alone. So, friendship is like Pittsburgh!"

Ma made a face. "Emmett -- you watch too much TV Land!"

The night turned out to be all right. I even had a civil conversation with Justin's mother. Emmett and I told her how well he's doing, really. At Emmett's urging, I promised her I won't leave him alone.

I grabbed my mother before I left. "I'm going to go back to the loft with Justin and stay over there. Just for tonight. Emmett and I were talking and we don't think he should be by himself over there."

Ma patted my cheek. "You're a good boy, Michael"

"I know. I'd rather be a bad, hot, well-hung boy -- but I'll take what I can get."

"Michael, you little devil!" Ma kissed me and I headed out to the Jeep.

***

I woke up early the next morning. Something about sleeping in the loft --especially that night -- made me restless. I got something to drink and turned on the television -- but I forgot it was Sunday when all those news shows designed to scare the shit out of you are on. Besides, Justin was sound asleep -- he'd slept through the night without a hitch -- and I didn't particularly want to wake him up.

So, I went on the computer and pulled up the store website and began exploring. I wanted to see how it looked and how it felt to navigate around. On Brian's top-of-the-line machine it really looks great -- all the bells and whistles that Justin added makes it seem very professional.

Then, of course, the goddamn phone rang. I picked up the extension next to the computer on the first ring, so it wouldn't wake up Justin.

"Hello?"

"Hello -- who is this? This is Ron Rosenblum calling from Los Angeles."

Shit. What the fuck does HE want?

"This is Michael Novotny. Ben's friend? I met you at the film festival? We went to dinner?"

"Can I ask what you are doing at this number?"

Hey, guy -- you called HERE, remember? Don't give me your fucking attitude. Asshole. "I'm over here working on the computer. Brian's computer. For my store. He has a more powerful system and I've been using it since before he left. If you don't mind?" Maybe I was getting bitchy, too, but he started it! "I should be asking why you're calling here -- or isn't is any of my business?"

The guy hesitated. Why the heck was Ron Rosenblum calling HERE, of all places? "No, I just wondered if you had heard anything from Brian. I mean, in the last day or two."

That's weird. "No. No one has heard from Brian since he left. Why would you think he'd be calling here?"

"Well, I had this number and I'm just asking...."

Some other voice kept interrupting Ron on the other end. Finally the voice took over the line. "Jimmy Hardy here."

The movie star? Right. Sure.

"And your name is?"

"Michael Novotny."

"Michael. Right. Here's the deal, Mike. We are trying to get in touch with Brian and we thought someone there might have some information about where he might be?"

I was stunned for a couple of seconds and then, God help me, I fucking exploded. "You mean, you don't know where he is? Isn't he in L.A. anymore?"

This Hardy guy hesitated again. They sure as fuck didn't want to tell ME what was going on. But now THEY had lost Brian. Lost him good. "We think so -- we just don't know where, exactly."

Then I got pissy. I deserved to get pissy, I think. "Excuse me, Mr. Hardy or whoever the fuck you are, but what is going on out there? What have you been doing to Brian?"

"Nothing! We're the ones looking for him."

That stopped me. Looking for him. Holy fuck! "Then he IS missing? How long has he been fucking missing? Have you called the police?"

What if something's happened to him? How long had he been gone? About a thousand questions were circling my brain, but none would come in for a landing.

"Now, Mike, don't get excited."

This fucking actor tells me not to get excited! HE'S the one who has lost Brian!

"I'm sure he's fine. He just never came home last night. I'm sure it's nothing."

If it's nothing, then why are you calling here in a panic? "He never came home? He ALWAYS comes home, don't you people know that? Why haven't you called the cops? Was he upset about something? Put Ron back on the phone!"

A couple seconds later Ron was back. I'm sure Mr. Hardy was glad not to have to listen to me scream in his poor famous ear anymore. "Michael, I'm only trying to find out if he may have called there last night or this morning. We don't have any indication that there's anything wrong. He could be staying at a friend's...."

A friend? A fucking friend? Like Ron would allow Brian to have a friend when he won't even let him call HOME! "Right. Name this 'friend,' Ron."

That got him. All he could do was mumble. "If he's not with a friend, he's probably just... just...."

"With a trick? The next day?" Fuck, even someone as clueless as Ron must see the absurdity of that little picture. "Having brunch? Going to the zoo? Never in a million fucking years, Ron -- and you know it!"

"Well, at least we know he's not suicidal or anything like that."

Oh, he sounded so smug. He doesn't know a fucking thing! I could only laugh at him -- a nasty laugh. "Oh, we know that, do we? YOU know that? Well, know THIS, Ron. That I only pulled him down from the fucking rafters of this loft exactly a year ago. Right after his birthday. Do you even know when that is, Ron? When his birthday IS?"

"A year ago? Are you sure?" His voice annoyed me with its New Yawk whine. And people say that Pittsburghers have an unpleasant accent!

Idiot! "No, I'm lying about it. I would really lie about something like that! THAT is how much YOU know Brian!"

"Maybe I should call the police."

"Maybe you should, then." In other words -- what have you guys been waiting for? He could be dead for all you know -- or care! "But let me tell you one thing, Ron. I don't care if you ARE a good friend of Ben's. Or you are some hotshot movie person. If anything has happened to Brian, I'm going to come out there and fucking KILL you? Do you hear me? And I'm NOT joking around!"

I was so fucking angry that I slammed the phone down and I hope his goddamn ear is still ringing!

Then I looked up and saw Justin standing there in his white bathrobe, his mouth hanging open and his eyes huge and staring. Shit!

"I heard what you said! Something's happened to Brian. Oh my God!"

He began pacing back and forth in front of the bedroom platform, pulling at his hair, his robe, his face, and saying, "Oh my God! Oh my GOD!" over and over.

"Don't fucking freak out on me!" I tried to get him to sit down on the sofa, but he just kept pacing back and forth. "Those jerks out there have just lost track of him for a minute. You know Brian -- he probably got sick of their bullshit and hightailed it off to Palm Springs or San Francisco for a wild weekend -- and they are too embarrassed to admit it!"

Justin stopped pacing. "You think so?"

"Of course!" Right. I really believe that. If I say it enough times it will be true.

I got him a glass of milk (I don't believe some of the things I do!) and finally sat him down on the sofa to drink it.

"When did he... disappear? I mean, according to them? On the phone?"

"Sometime last night." Of all the fucking nights to pick to pull a disappearing act. Unless it wasn't a coincidence.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," said Justin. "I mean, that it was last night."

I sat down next to him. "I don't either, but I don't want to think about it."

"They have no clue at all, do they? I mean Ron and whoever -- out there? About... what happened?"

"Not if they've relied on Brian to tell them. Because he never would say anything, even if it was killing him. No, they don't have a clue."

Justin was holding the glass in his right hand -- his weak hand -- and I could see that it was slightly trembling, the milk sloshing around like a choppy ocean. "That really scares the shit out of me, Michael. I mean, no one out there knowing anything or understanding... everything." He drank a little milk and finally set it down on the side table. "I know that Brian can be... is... someone who makes you want to scream sometimes. I feel like if I had him here I could KILL him. But, then... then... the thought of something really happening to him...."

"The thing about Brian is that when he's the most infuriating, when he makes you the most angry, I guarantee you, THAT'S when he's in the most trouble, the most danger. My 30th birthday party, when he was on suspension from work, after your... after you were hurt. That's why this L.A. thing scares the holy shit out of me. And none of us are there, watching out for him. And when does he go missing?"

"The anniversary... of the prom."

"Exactly. Now do you see why I'm fucking afraid?"

Justin and I sat silently for a while. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt.

"Michael, I heard you say that to... Ron. What really happened at the loft when you came in? Was he really trying to...."

"I'm not sure what he's thinks he was trying to do. But no one who has any concern at all for their own life would try a stunt like that. It's an accident waiting to happen."

"What stunt?"

"Scarfing. That's what he was doing. Do you know what it is?"

"Only from books. I didn't think people really did it."

"They don't very often. Because it can kill you. Especially when you're alone and there's no one to get you out of it if something goes wrong."

I knew we were both thinking about Brian out in L.A. Alone.

Justin whispered sadly, "Not at all 'Like Pittsburgh.'"

Continue on to "Two More Lost Boys", Chapter Nineteen of "Queer Theories."

©Gaedhal, May 2002

Picture of Hal Sparks and Randy Harrison from Showtime.

Revised and Updated January 16, 2003.