This is Chapter 3 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the beginning of this saga.
The narrator is Justin Taylor, and features Marshall Meyers, Gus Peterson-Marcus, Debbie Novotny, Michael Novotny, Mrs. Picard, Lindsay Peterson, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin's so-called life. 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'm walking across campus when I realize that someone is walking along beside me.
I look up. "Oh, hi." I hesitate. It's a guy who looks vaguely familiar, but I can't remember his name.
"Marshall. I'm in your Graphics class."
"Right. Marshall," I answer, trudging along. The wind is whipping up. January in the Pitts is truly the pits.
"I'm just going to get some coffee. Want to come along?" he says. "I mean if you aren't too busy?"
Since I'm on my way to get something to eat anyway, I nod. "Sure. Why not?"
We are right next to the Music Building, so we go to the snackbar in there and find a table.
"I'll get the coffee," says Marshall. "Unless there's something else you'd rather have?"
"No, coffee is fine. Anything hot." My hands are so fucking cold that just holding the cup will feel good.
This weather is killing my right hand. It's been stiffening up a lot lately. And I can't tell my mother or she'll make me go to the physical therapist again and there's no fucking way I can endure that shit again! If... if Brian were here, he'd sit and massage my hand while we were watching TV or lying in bed. He'd just rub it, starting with my wrist, then moving to the middle of my palm, then each finger individually. Slowly....
"I didn't know if you wanted cream and sugar, Justin, so I brought both," says Marshall, putting down a plastic tray.
"Thanks," I say. I take a cup and add a little cream and one packet of sugar. I think about Brian. He'd pour in five packets, at least. He loves his coffee extra sweet. I think about the taste of coffee on his tongue in the mornings when I would....
"It figures that McHenry would give us a big Graphics project right off the bat, huh? He doesn't waste any time, you know what I mean?" chirps Marshall, stirring his cup of coffee. He's also bought two banana muffins. "Take one! They're pretty good. That's why I always come to this snackbar. Not only is it the nicest one on campus, but they have the best bakery stuff."
I grudgingly take a muffin and bite into it. I really am hungry. "These are pretty good. I have a friend who makes the best muffins. But these aren't bad at all."
"Is your friend a cook?" asks Marshall.
"No," I reply, unsure of how to describe Emmett. "He works in... with computers. Websites and that kind of thing. But he likes to bake. He's from Mississippi and has all kinds of Southern recipes that he's always trying out on me. Some are awful, but others are really tasty. Like his biscuits and muffins. He makes good hush puppies, too."
"Hush Puppies!" exclaims Marshall. "I thought those were shoes?"
"They are, but they're also a kind of corn muffin. They're deep fried." I look around. Marshall is right. This snackbar is much nicer than the one in the Art Building. It's brighter and the layout is more open. The colors are more relaxing, too. They make you feel like eating!
"Justin," begins Marshall, his voice suddenly changing tone. Oh oh. Here it comes. I should have figured this was coming. "I've been wanting to ask you out -- I mean just for coffee or something -- since last semester. But... I never had the chance. Or the nerve."
I take a deep breath. "Listen, Marshall, I don't think that...."
"No, don't blow me off, Justin! Please?" says Marshall, like he's afraid I'm going to jump up and run away. The truth is that I'm too exhausted to run away right now. After I got home last night from the mixer at Carnegie Mellon and finished my letter I barely slept two hours. I just tossed and turned all night and I woke up feeling rotten. "I... I just thought it would be nice to hang out a little. That's all! Really!"
I set the remnant of the muffin back on the plate. "I'm flattered, Marshall, but I'm not interested in going out or anything. I... it's complicated. I don't want you to think that there's something going on when... when I'm not into anything like that." Yeah, the last thing I need is another Wade coming over to the loft and trying to wrestle me into bed. Fucking forget that!
Marshall looks really embarrassed. "I didn't mean to put you on the spot, Justin," he says, blushing. He's actually kind of cute and shy. He has short clipped brown hair with bleached streaks on the sides. I feel bad because he's obviously been waiting for his chance to ask me out and I don't want to be an asshole to him. I keep thinking of Eric at the mixer last night. Hearing directly from the source the impact of my shitty behavior towards him was like a fucking punch in the gut. In fact, I would have preferred if he had just punched me! Or if his boyfriend had! Because I feel like that's what I deserved.
"No, you didn't put me on the spot, Marshall. Like I said, I'm flattered. And... I wouldn't mind going and having coffee after class every once in a while," I say. And I realize that I mean it. I've been holding myself so aloof from everyone at PIFA except Gwennie Worthing and a few of her friends in the School of Dance that I know a lot of people in the Art School resent me and think I'm a fucking snob. But the truth is that... that last year I was too scared to make friends and this year I'm afraid that people will only want to get close to me because I'm 'Justin Taylor.' You know -- THAT guy! The boyfriend of Brian Kinney. The Twinkie King of Babylon. Co-star of that infamous photo spread. Hollywood Boytoy. It's been happening ever since I started back at school. It was happening last night. And it freaks me out.
"Sure! That would be great!" he says. Marshall doesn't seem like the kind of guy who's only looking for some gossip to spread around. Far from it. He seems sincere. Just a nice kid. And it's pleasant to sit with someone quietly. No pressure to tell every detail of my goddamn life. Just talk about classes -- and banana muffins.
I have another letter in my portfolio that I was planning to finish while I ate lunch, but it's almost done. I can still write the rest of it later and mail it this evening. There's a pick-up at the box on Liberty Avenue at 7:00 p.m. I can get it in there in time, no problem. Maybe it's dumb, but I don't like to miss a single day of writing.
Marshall is chattering on about some of his other classes and also about some of the other students in our Graphics class. Marshall lives in one of the dorms, so he's friendly with a lot of people who also live on campus. "I know you must be really busy most of the time, Justin, but sometimes we all go to the movies on Friday night. If you ever wanted to go, too... it's a group thing. Not like a date or anything."
I shrug. "I might. As long as it isn't some long movie in Lithuanian!"
Marshall laughs. "Nah, just whatever is playing at the cheapo theater near campus. The movies are second run, but it's only 2 bucks to get in -- and another 2 bucks for all the popcorn you can eat!"
I smile back at him. It feels good to smile. "Can't beat a deal like that!"
While Marshall and I are finishing up our coffee I get this weird prickling at the back of my neck. This strange desire to turn around. Some people have come in and sat down at the table behind us. "Marshall," I ask, leaning over. "Who just came in here?"
Marshall blinks. He looks behind me and frowns. "A couple of music students, I guess. They have their instrument cases."
Yeah. This is the Music School after all. I suddenly get the overpowering urge to stand up. I reach for my coat and scarf. "I have to get moving. I'll see you in class, Marshall."
"What about Friday? The movie?" he asks, hopefully.
"Um -- this Friday isn't good," I say, making excuses. "I'll talk to you about it. Maybe another time, okay?"
"Sure!" he grins. He's happy. I didn't say no, after all. I hate to disappoint him, but I doubt I'll be going to the movies with Marshall and his friends anytime soon.
I slip on my coat and turn around. Because I'm still feeling my skin crawling up the back of my neck. As I straighten my coat I look behind me. And that's when I see him. The guy from my fucking vision. The same one who was playing the violin at the August Art Fest. He's a student here at PIFA. And I remember that's where I met him in my Alternate Stream. At a concert right here in this very building. But how could I remember that? It didn't happen! It NEVER happened!
He's talking intently to the guy he's with, so he doesn't see me. I hear him say something about a recital this weekend. I stare at him and feel my right hand beginning to spasm as I try to pick up my leather portfolio. I fumble with it -- and the guy looks up. When he sees me he starts. Fuck! It's like... like he knows me. But he can't know me! He's never seen me before. He's never met me. Never.... Except a lot of people on this campus know 'Justin Taylor.' Or they think they know me. He's probably just surprised to see me here, in the Music Building. I make a mental note -- never come over here again! Ever! The muffins aren't THAT fucking good!
"Are you okay, Justin?" asks Marshall with concern.
"Oh, yeah. It's... my hand is a little stiff. That's all." I'm fumbling with everything. I drop my scarf and have to bend to pick it up.
"You want me to carry something for you?" Marshall offers. He stands and puts on his coat, too.
"No, I'm fine," I reply, getting a grip on my portfolio. Marshall and I head for the door.
"Hey. Excuse me."
I freeze. It's him. Stopping me. "What?" I say abruptly.
"Aren't you... Justin Taylor?" he says. His face is right up next to mine and I shudder when he reaches out to touch my arm. I have a horrible flash of... of this guy touching me. Playing the violin for me. Kissing me. Of him... and me... and we're....
"Good guess," I snap, pulling away violently. I don't want him to talk to me. I don't want him to touch me. I don't want him anywhere near me! He seems startled by my reaction. Fuck -- I'm startled by my reaction! "You should go on 'Jeopardy.' Now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go now. Come on, Marshall." I hustle Marshall out of the snackbar and out of the building.
"What was THAT all about?" asks Marshall, his eyes huge.
"Nothing, Marshall," I say, hurrying along. "That guy is an asshole." But I'm shaking. "Forget it." The two of us walk back across the Quad, talking about classes and the Graphics project coming up. Anything to keep my mind off of that creep. I like talking to Marshall. And he doesn't ask me anymore questions about... the musician. We go inside the Art Building and I feel my cellphone vibrating in my pocket. "I've got a call. I'll see you, Marshall."
"See you, Justin," he says, heading for the studios.
I pull out the cell and look at the number. "Lindsay?"
"Oh, Justin, I'm glad you answered! I need to ask a big, big favor! Melanie is in court and I'm still at the obstetrician's office."
"Is everything all right? I mean, with the baby?" I say, beginning to panic.
"Everything is fine, Justin. The doctor is running behind a little, and I need someone to pick up Gus at his pre-school. I hate to ask, but...."
But who else? I'm glad that she asked me. "Of course I'll do it. I was going to do some stuff at the studio here, but it can wait. My classes are through for today."
"Oh, thank you, Justin! You're a life saver!"
I look at my watch. It's almost 3:00. "It's the same place Brian and I went last time, right?"
"Yes, honey," says Lindz. "The same place. I'll call the school and tell them to expect you to pick Gus up. You'll have to show them ID to prove who you are."
"No problem. I'll take Gus over to get ice cream or something afterwards, is that okay? Or maybe I'll take him to the diner?"
"Thank you, Justin! I owe you one!"
"I know," I answer. "That means you have to let me name the new baby, too! I did such a great job naming Gus, after all! What do you think of... Gertrude? Or Hyacinth? Or maybe... Bambi?"
Lindsay sighs loudly. She has no sense of humor whatsoever. "Just have Gus home before it gets too late. And if you are going to feed him, not ONLY ice cream? All right?"
"I understand. I'll see you later, Lindz." I put away my cell and go to find the Jeep.
Twenty minutes later I'm walking into the pre-school. I head directly for the room where the Halloween Party was held and knock on the door. Gus' teacher, Mrs. Picard, comes out and looks me up and down. "Yes?"
"I'm Justin Taylor. Lindsay Peterson asked me to pick up her son, Gus." I pull out my wallet. Ever since all of the publicity about Brian and reporters nosing around Pittsburgh for information on him, Lindsay has asked the pre-school to be extra watchful of Gus. "Here is my driver's license, and my PIFA student ID, and my Social Security card, and...."
"That's fine, Mr. Taylor," Mrs. Picard says, stopping me from emptying my entire wallet. "I remember you from when you were here at Halloween. When Gus' father came. You're his friend." Mrs. Picard smiles at me a little vacantly. She's a nice lady and the little kids love her, but Lindsay says she's still totally confused when it comes to Gus' family situation. And she keeps referring to Lindsay as 'Mrs. Peterson.' Lindsay has given up trying to correct her.
"That's right," I say. "That's when Brian was here... the last time. At Halloween."
There's a moment of awkward silence. I wonder if I should try to explain the concept of gay partnership to Mrs. Picard one more time? But she would just smile at me. "Anyway, I'm so happy that you came, Mr. Taylor. I'm afraid that there's been a bit of an upset today."
I frown. "What kind of upset?"
Mrs. Picard glances over at the door to the playroom. "The father of one of the little boys came in today for a special show-and-tell treat. He's a fireman and he brought his hat and his boots and a model fire truck and he explained to the children what a fireman does. Many of the fathers who have interesting jobs -- and some of the mothers, too, these days -- come in and do a little demonstration. The children so enjoy it." Mrs. Picard hesitates. "But Gus became upset. I think seeing one of the other little boys with his father...."
I take a deep breath. "Was he asking for his Daddy?"
Mrs. Picard nods. "Yes, he was. He was crying. He was very distressed. When Mrs. Peterson called I didn't want to upset her -- I know she's expecting soon."
"She was held up at the doctor's office," I say. "That's why she asked me to come over."
Mrs. Picard sighs. "Mrs. Peterson does such a wonderful job with Gus and I know it must be difficult, but boys this age often times want their daddies. That makes it hard when they see other little boys with their daddies. It's especially problematic for children whose parents aren't living together. That is not a criticism of Mrs. Peterson. Not at all. I know that circumstances are often beyond our control."
"They are," I say. "Way beyond our control." I feel like my heart is breaking when I think about Gus sitting there in that playroom, crying. "Can I take him now?"
"Certainly, Mr. Taylor."
Mrs. Picard leads me into the playroom and Gus launches himself at me, screaming. "Dustin! Dustin!"
"Hey, Gusto!" I say, lifting him into my arms. He's getting heavy. And he looks more and more like Brian every time I see him. I feel a pang in the pit of my stomach.
Gus hugs me tightly. "Love YOU, Dustin!" Then he looks around. "Where Daddy?"
"He... he can't be here right now, Gus. Maybe later," I lie. What can you say to a little boy?
Gus face screws up and the tears begin to fill his eyes. "I want Daddy! Now! I want Daddy!"
"Don't cry, Gus," I say, feeling the tears welling up in my own eyes. "I want him, too. But there's nothing either of us can do right now."
Mrs. Picard gathers up Gus' stuff and helps me put on his red coat and boots and wrap his scarf around his head and neck. He's still sniffling quietly and mumbling, "Daddy." I carry him out to the Jeep and strap him into the carseat in the back. Then I fire up the Jeep and turn on the CD player. "What do you want to hear? 'Yellow Submarine'?"
That cheers him up! "Hello Ubmareen!" he shouts, and I turn the music way up. He's bouncing and singing -- sort of -- along with the music. Maybe I'm brainwashing Gus by force-feeding him all my favorite music and cartoons and stuff, but what the heck? I don't want him growing up to be a male lesbian! No offense to Lindz and Mel, but Mrs. Picard at the pre-school is right, I think. A little boy wants his daddy. I know I always did. Even... even Brian must have wanted his father when he was Gus' size. And I wonder if Jack Kinney was rejecting him even then, even at that young age. I hope not. I hope Brian had that much, at least, when he was as small and vulnerable as Gus.
At the diner, Debbie flies over and grabs Gus up in her arms. "There's my little man!" Then she notices me. "Hey, Sunshine. Babysitting today?"
"Lindsay got held up at the doctor's office." I take off Gus' coat and then pull over a highchair and slide him into it.
Deb frowns. "Everything okay?"
I nod. "Lindz was running late. So I'm filling in."
Just then Michael comes in and smiles when he sees us. "Hey, Boy Wonder! And Gus, too. I haven't seen you for a while." Michael makes a funny face at Gus, who makes one right back at him. "What's up, Champ? Remember me? I'm your Uncle Mikey. I gave you those X-Men action figures for Christmas."
"Mikey!" squeals Gus, laughing. And then we all laugh. Gus never forgets a present. He's a massive consumer already, just like his father!
Michael's face changes all of a sudden. "Jesus, he looks so much like... like Brian. It's kind of scary." Michael turns to me, his brow furrowed. "Justin, I don't know how you can...." Michael swallows. "I gotta go."
"What about your food?" says Deb, putting her hands on her hips.
"I'm not hungry anymore," he says petulantly.
"Michael, please sit down," I say, opening up a package of crackers and handing one to Gus. "It's okay, really. Just sit down."
But his face is stony. "I can't. I have to go." And Michael splits.
I feel bad for Michael. He's depressed because he and Ben haven't spoken since their break-up out in Los Angeles. And Michael and Ted and Emmett aren't as close as they used to be -- he and Ted never completely made up after their falling out last winter when I knocked Ted on his ass for calling Brian names. So, Michael is hurting, I realize that. And the fact that he can't talk to Brian makes him crazy. Even when Brian was in California or London, Brian was always just a phone call away. And now... Brian is out of reach, almost completely.
Michael needs to grow the fuck up. And fast. I mean, I'm in the same fucking boat, right? I'm cut off from Brian, too! But I don't have time to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I have my classes and my art projects and my fucking life to live! So Michael should get over a few things, too. If I can deal with reality, so can he!
"Little shit," comments Debbie, watching her son hurry away. She knows what we are all going through, but she's helpless to do anything, either. She sighs and takes out her pad. "But back to the important things. This young man right here! Okay, Gus -- what do you want? Anything in the house is on special for Gus!"
"Tell Deb what you want, Gusto," I coax, stroking his soft, dark hair.
He looks at Deb and then he looks at me. Those deep green eyes. Those long, black lashes. Those red, pouty lips. "Want my Daddy!" he cries, and the tears spill over.
Deb takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Baby, but I don't have that on the menu."
After he eats a little bit of a plain hamburger and a lot of chocolate ice cream, I take Gus back to the loft. He didn't get his nap earlier this afternoon, so he's crabby. But he doesn't want to lie down. He follows me around the loft, clinging to me and sucking his finger. When I put some books down on the desk next to computer, he sees the pictures of Brian I have on the shelf behind it. "Daddy!" he says again. That's his mantra. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.
"I'm here, Gus," I say. "I know I'm not a very good substitute, but I'm here."
"Dustin," he whines. I get him some juice and then take him up on the platform and cuddle with him on the bed. Gus is full of diner food and his eyes are beginning to droop. If he'd take a short nap, then I can drive him back to Lindz and Mel's later this evening. I like having Gus here. I'd like to keep him all night if the girls would let me, but I have a studio class tomorrow morning. Still, it feels good to have Gus here. I guess I'm a little lonely.
"Song!" sniffs Gus, tossing on the bed. "MY song!"
I know what song he means, but there's no fucking way....
"Song?" he whines. I pick him up and carry him back and forth in front of the bed.
"How about this one, Gus?" I say, bouncing him up and down. "'Macho, Macho Man! I've got to be a Macho Man! Mucho Macho Man! I've got to be a Macho Man!'"
"NO!" he wails. And he puts his little head on my shoulder, sniffling.
"All right! Okay! But don't tell anyone, Gus!" That damn Melanie and her dyke icon songs!
"'The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup,
I say a little prayer for you.
While combing my hair, now,
And wondering what dress to wear, now,
I say a little prayer for you.'"
Gus sighs a little sigh and closes his eyes.
"'I run for the bus, dear,
While riding I think of us, dear,
I say a little prayer for you.
At work I just take time,
And all through my coffee break-time,
I say a little prayer for you.
Forever, forever, you'll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever, forever we never will part,
Oh, how I'll love you!
Together, together, that's how it must be,
To live without you
Would only be heartbreak for me.
My darling believe me,
For me there is no one
I'm in love with you....'"
I'm thinking of Brian the whole time I'm singing this song to Gus. He's always in my mind anyway, but holding a small version of him in my arms, and singing these lyrics, I can almost feel that Brian is here with me. I think about how he always stays in my heart. How living without him will always be heartbreak for me. And about how I do 'Say A Little Prayer' for Brian every night. As corny as that sounds, and as much as Brian would groan if he knew that I did it, I just can't help myself. I know it's hopelessly romantic and all of that crap. But what Brian is going through now, he can use all the help he can get. And so can I.
I used to think that once we got through the rough stuff, that we'd be together all the time. That nothing could ever keep us apart again. The bashing couldn't do it. Neither could Brian's Past. Or Ron. But I guess that was just fantasy. Brian and Justin. Happy together. Always. No apologies, excuse, or regrets. That is the theory, anyway. But THIS is the reality.
Gus is finally out. I lay him down on the bed and let him doze. I take my notebook out of my portfolio. I lie down next to him on the bed and finish up the letter I started this morning in Art History class. I add all the stuff about picking up Gus and going to the diner, but I leave out having to sing the corny song. I also leave out having coffee with Marshall -- and seeing that musician from my vision. No need to put that in.
Sometimes I do leave certain things out. Not that I'm feeling guilty or anything, but... there are some things I don't want to dwell on. Like the letter I wrote last night before I went to sleep and then mailed this morning. I mentioned going to the mixer at Carnegie Mellon and about how Wade acted like a complete twat. But I didn't put in the part about seeing Eric and his boyfriend. I'm not sure why I left that out. Maybe because I'm ashamed of how I behaved to Eric. Maybe because... I don't know. There are certain things I don't want to think about too much.
I look over and see something sitting on the table by the bed. I pick it up and run my fingers over it, feeling the rumpled brown hair, the fluffy brown tail. It isn't something big or important, it's just a little stuffed doll about 9 inches long. A Beast wearing a royal blue coat and black velvet pants. Like I say, nothing important. Gus is always reaching for the Beast, wanting to touch him. I usually let Gus hold him a little bit, but I don't let Gus play with him or mess him up. Because this is my Beast. No matter what, this is mine.
I finish up my letter, sign it, and seal it up. There's still time to take the letter over to Liberty Avenue and put it into the box to go out tonight. Then I'll start another one before I go to bed. One to think about as I'm falling asleep. One every day. I try to do that, at least. When there isn't much else that I can do, I can always do that. That -- and a little prayer. Always.
("I Say a Little Prayer" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.)
Continue on to "Haven of Hope", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, January 2004.
Posted January 21, 2004.