WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 1 of Chapter 114 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Deb and Vic's Excellent Adventure -- Part 4", the previous section.

The narrator is Ben Bruckner, and features Justin Taylor, Michael Novotny, Debbie Novotny, Vic Grassi, Brian Kinney, Jimmy Hardy, Peggy Doyle, Ramon, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin, Ben, and Michael arrive for the premiere -- and walk into the middle of trouble. Los Angeles, November 2002.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.

"Look!" says Michael, excitedly, as we passed through the security clearance at LAX. "There's Ma!" And he begins waving his arms frantically, accidentally striking Justin on the shoulder and me in the head.

"Michael, I think she sees us," I say. "There's no need to knock over either Justin or me."

"Oh, sorry, Ben," Michael apologizes. "I guess I'm just all keyed up. Sorry, Justin."

"That's okay," Justin says, shifting his carry-on bag on his shoulder. "I think I'll live." And he smiles, but he also looks over at me and rolls his eyes slightly. Traveling with Michael and Justin is a little like taking a couple of high-spirited kids on an outing. They act like typical siblings -- sniping and spatting at each other, but all in a good natured way. This is good, because it means they are getting along, but it's bad because the two of them are making me nuts! Talk about feeling like 'Daddy' -- that's something I'm just not used to.

"Sweetie!" Deb is yelling as she reaches us and catches Michael in her gleeful embrace. Debbie always goes for the neck and once she has you she doesn't like to let go.

"Jesus, Ma, you just saw me on Friday night!" Michael gasps, extricating himself from Deb's vise-like grip.

"And Sunshine!" She turns her attention to her other 'baby' and Justin endures her squeezes as well.

"Hi, Deb. You look nice," he says. "Is that a new outfit?"

"It sure is! Brian bought it for me on Rodeo Drive. At Donna Karan!" Debbie stands back to model it. It is an attractive pantsuit. Flattering color and style, with a nice scarf tied at her neck. And expensive-looking, too. You can say a lot of things about Brian Kinney, but never that he isn't generous to a fault. Then she turns to me. "And Ben. Hiya, hon."

To me Deb gives a more reserved hug. Not that she doesn't like me, because she does. All of those issues about Michael dating an HIV+ man seem to be well in the past. But she still sees me as 'The Professor' -- I'm not exactly one of her 'Boys.' At least not yet. But I'm getting there.

Justin looks around, his brow furrowed. "Where IS Brian?" Yes, that's all he's been talking about the entire time we were traveling out here -- when he would be seeing Brian. But Brian doesn't seem to be in evidence.

Deb grins. "He's in the car with Vic, honey. We've got a limo! You should see me and Vic riding around town like a couple of swells!"

"Why didn't Brian and Vic come into the airport with you, Deb?" Justin asks. He looks concerned.

Deb's face changes slightly. "It's a long story, hon," she says, her voice more serious. "Let's grab your stuff and we can get going." She starts to shepherd us to the Baggage Claim.

But Justin won't move. "I want to know right now, Deb," he says. "Before we go one more step."

Now Debbie looks pissed. She hates anyone to contradict her or stand in the way of her Plan for World Domination! "It's nothing, sweetie. Really. Let's get moving." Deb tries to take Justin's arm and move him along.

"If it's really nothing, tell me now," says Justin. He stops in his tracks and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a cellphone. "Never mind. I'll just call Brian and find out where he really is!"

"You're a rude little fucker, you know that?" Deb says, her hands on her hips.

"Just tell him, Ma!" says Michael, impatiently. "Then we can get out of this airport!"

Debbie sighs. "He's in the limo with Vic -- just like I said!"

"And?" Justin is steadfast. What a general this kid would make!

"I guess Brian had a little... run-in with that fucking Ron earlier this afternoon," she admits. "Brian was at the studio office doing some kind of work to get ready for the premiere tomorrow when Ron came busting in, yelling at him about something or another. And then he told Brian that he's going to be at the television studio this evening while Brian and Jimmy are doing 'Larry King.' So that BRIAN won't fuck things up! That's what that Ron told him!"

"Fuck!" says Justin.

"Yeah. Fuck is right," Debbie adds. "Brian's been hustling his ass all over town for this movie, doing publicity day and night. Photo shoots, interviews, you name it! He's hardly been able to spend any time with us because he's so fucking busy! He's doing all that work -- and THAT is what good old Ron says to him! And in front of a bunch of important studio executives, too. Like Ron's trying to make Brian look like a screw-up! But not everybody bought Ron's garbage! I guess there was one guy there -- Howie something, Brian said his name was -- who told Ron to hit the road. And this guy is like an Executive Producer on 'The Olympian,' so he's a big shot."

"That would be Howard Sheldon," I interject. "He's head of Production at Terra Nova Studio. He greenlighted the film last year."

"Huh?" says Deb, looking at me.

"That means he gave it the go-ahead. They couldn't have made the film without Howard Sheldon's okay," I explain.

"Well, it sounds like he knows the score," Deb continues. "Because this Howie said that Ron should leave Brian the fuck alone and let him do his job. And then Ron stormed out of there. So I guess HE didn't look too good in front of the studio execs, either. Brian came to our hotel right after that to go to the airport with us and that's when he told me and Vic the whole story. And is Brian ever upset, let me tell you!" Deb is practically spitting. Throughout Deb's entire narrative, Justin's face is looking more and more strained.

But I frown. "That doesn't sound at all like Ron," I comment. "Why would he want to purposely upset Brian? Especially when the premiere is so close? And right before an important television appearance?"

"Yes it DOES sound like Ron!" Michael asserts. "It sounds like the arrogant son of a bitch I talked to on the phone last Spring! He treated me like I was an idiot! He's an asshole, Ben. And I don't care if he IS your friend. He treats Brian like shit!"

I sigh. Michael and I have been over this ground before to no avail. "That's because Ron was very upset that time he talked to you, Michael. Brian was missing and Ron was frantic. You have to understand the circumstances."

Michael sniffs. "Brian was missing because RON is a fucking JERK, Ben! And that's the truth!"

"I'm sure there must have been extenuating circumstances, Michael," I reply. "Ron is usually a very reasonable person."

"Reasonable, huh?" Deb snorts. "Well, you didn't see your 'reasonable' pal shrieking at poor Brian until Ron was so purple I thought he was going to fucking explode! He chased Brian out of the house and down the driveway, screaming at him like a banshee while Vic and I just watched with our mouths hanging open."

"When was this, Deb?" Justin asks. He's looking more and more worried.

"Yesterday, Baby. When Brian returned the car that Ron gave him. Then he practically collapsed in the limo, he was so disturbed about the whole thing. Then we dropped him off at the car place where he picked his new Jeep."

"Brian returned the Mustang?" Justin says in surprise. "He really did? And he got a new Jeep?"

"Yeah, honey. Didn't he tell you? Didn't you talk to him last night?" asks Deb.

"No, he didn't call me." Justin shakes his head. "And when I tried to call him, he wasn't picking up his phone. I had to stop and get to bed because our flight left Pittsburgh early this morning, so I didn't keep trying. I wished I'd known about all this!"

I can see that Justin is worried, but I think it's just exhaustion from the long flight and then having an extended layover in Chicago. O'Hare Airport was a real nightmare.

"See?" says Michael, nodding at me. "I told you that Ron is a nutcase, Ben. But you always fucking stick up for him."

"I'm NOT going to have this argument with you again, Michael" I reply. "This isn't the time or the place."

"Jesus! Stop arguing! Let's just get going!" Justin interrupts. "I want to get out to that limo! RIGHT NOW!"

We walk down to the Baggage Claim area and I hear Debbie filling Justin in on more details. Apparently Brian really is afraid that Ron really is going to show up at the 'Larry King' studio this evening and make a scene even though Howie Sheldon told him to stay away. And the program is live, so anything could happen while they are on the air. As a result, Brian is as "jumpy as a jackrabbit," as Deb so colorfully puts it.

"I should have come with him straight from New York," says Justin. "I knew I shouldn't have let him come back to this fucking city all by himself!"

"Oh, he'll be okay, honey," Deb reassures him. "Brian is a big boy. He's just under a little bit of stress right now. And he'll be right as rain now that you're here, Baby."

When we reach the luggage carousel, Justin grabs his suitcase -- a beautiful leather pullman inscribed with his initials that matches his leather carry-on. Michael told me that Brian bought him an entire set just to go on a weekend to New York. But Justin doesn't even wait to put his bags on the luggage dolly with Michael's and mine. He practically runs out of the Claims area and out to where the cars are waiting to pick up passengers.

"Wait, honey!" Debbie yells. "Justin! You don't know which car it is!" But he's already gone. "That kid." Deb shakes her head.

"He's worried, Ma," Michael reminds him. "Especially after that uplifting little story you just related about Brian and Ron. Shit! You made ME want to run out there and make sure that Brian is all right!"

"Excuse me! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but I can't say a fucking THING around here without getting it from ALL directions!" And with that Debbie points in the direction of the pick-up area. "Get your butts in gear!"

It's fairly easy to pick out the limo because Vic is leaning against it, next to a handsome Hispanic man in a chauffeur's uniform.

"Come on, Sis! WE have to get a move on! Brian has to be at that studio BEFORE 6:00," says Vic, smiling. He looks well. Healthy. His color is good. Vic moves forward, giving Michael a big hug and clamping me on the back in greeting.

"Keep your shirt on! We're here!" Deb says. "Hey, Ramon, will you get these bags, kiddo?"

"Of course, Mrs. Novotny," says the chauffeur. I help him load the bags in the trunk. Justin's suitcase and carry-on are already in there. And the hunky Ramon is definitely checking me out. Welcome to California, indeed!

Michael hesitates before opening the door of the limo. "Are you sure the coast is clear?" he asks, lifting his eyebrows.

"Get the fuck in the car!" Deb gives her son a playful swat. "If Brian and Justin are doing stuff in there, it isn't anything that YOU haven't seen before!"

We all pile into the limousine, Deb next to the pair already inside, and Michael, Vic, and I across from them. And I keep looking over at Brian and Justin -- Michael does, too -- because Debbie is wrong. They ARE doing something that I, at least, have never seen before. And I can tell by the look on Michael's face that he's never really seen this before either. Because Brian is leaning his head against Justin's shoulder, his eyes closed tightly, and Justin is comforting him -- stroking his hair with one hand and his back with the other, his arms wrapped around him like you would hold a child. Debbie and Vic are tactfully pretending that Brian and Justin aren't even there. The limo pulls away from the curb and Vic talks about the city and the weather and Debbie talks about the sights that they've seen -- about everything except the sight of confident, fuck-em-all Brian Kinney being kept from falling completely apart by a nineteen year old kid.

The ride in from the airport seems to take a long time, mainly because of the strange sense of anxiety in the car. I can see Brian getting more relaxed the longer he's in physical contact with Justin -- it's visible in his face, as the tension in it begins to dissipate. Brian looks thin to me -- maybe it's the tight black slacks he's wearing, or the deep blue silk shirt that seems to hang on him a little too loosely. The neck is open and I can see that he's wearing that chain with the heart on it. Michael says that Justin gave it to him and it seems a peculiar thing for a guy like Brian. But then I guess his shell bracelet -- which I also see on his right wrist, as always -- is not what you might expect. Those idiosyncracies are purely Brian.

I know that Michael is dying to talk to Brian, to say SOMETHING to him, but every time the poor guy even starts to open his mouth either Deb or Vic launches into another description of the Hollywood Wax Museum or dinner at the Polo Lounge to shut him up. It's a relief when we pull up to the television studio and go into a parking garage. A clutch of serious-looking gentlemen in dark gray suits are waiting at the door. Brian lifts his head, takes one look at them, and says one word -- "Shit."

"Brian, you have to go out there," Justin states flatly. "They're waiting for you."

"Can't we just fuck it?" he answers. "I just want to go home. I just want to.... Christ!"

One of the suits moves forward and opens the door of the limo. "Mr. Kinney? Mr. Hardy is waiting for you upstairs." And then the men stand there, staring. Waiting for Brian to make the next move.

Justin gives him an almost imperceptible push. It seems obvious that Brian is taking a lot of strength from Justin. He trusts that kid like he trusts no one else, that's certain. Brian reluctantly climbs out of the car and the gray-suited flunkies practically pick him up and sweep him into the studio. Justin scrambles out and races after them. The rest of us follow behind a little more slowly. One of the suits ushers us into an elevator and straight to the studio where they have the West Coast CNN set up for 'Larry King Live.'

"I thought this show is on at 9:00," says Michael, looking at the set. It seems so large on screen, but in reality it's tiny -- basically just a desk and a backdrop. "Why the hell does Brian have to be here so early?"

"Because it's on at 9:00 in Pittsburgh," I explain. "But the show is live -- and that means 6:00 out here."

"Oh, yeah," says Michael. "I keep forgetting that time difference."

"Where did they take Brian and Sunshine?" asks Debbie, poking at the man in the dark gray suit who is escorting us with a manicured finger.

"Why don't you have a seat, Mrs...?" he replies.

"Novotny, hon," she declares. "Deborah Jane Grassi Novotny. Now where the fuck are Brian and Justin?"

"If you and your friends will have a seat, Mrs. Novotny." The man gestures for another man in jeans to bring over some chairs. "But I must ask you all to please be quiet while we are on the air. This is a live program and we can't stop and begin again if there's an interruption."

"So? Who's interrupting?" Debbie answers and sits down on the proffered chair like a queen. A drama queen. The suit backs off. We all have a seat and wait for something to happen.

A few minutes later Justin wanders over and takes the chair next to me. "Well, they kicked me out of the make-up room," he says, dejectedly.

"Who did?" asks Vic.

"Jimmy Hardy's bitch of a personal assistant," says Justin. "Peggy. She fucking HATES me!"

"They are probably busy in there getting ready for the show. Maybe you were distracting Brian," Debbie suggests.

"I wasn't distracting him! I was helping him -- or I was trying to." Justin sighs. "Jimmy just wants Brian all to himself. You know he's in love with Brian, don't you?" Debbie looks over at me and rolls her eyes. Justin thinks EVERYONE is madly in love with Brian! "So Jimmy made that fucking Peggy throw me out! Brian is a nervous wreck and they aren't helping him! I need to BE in there to help him!"

"Maybe Jimmy Hardy had some movie business to talk to Brian about, Sunshine. I'm sure it had nothing to do with you," says Debbie.

Vic stands up and comes over to Justin, leaning down. I'm sitting right next to him, so it's hard NOT to see what Vic is doing. Vic takes a pill container out of his pocket and quietly hands it over to Justin.

Justin looks up at Vic, startled. "Where did you get this?"

Vic looks grim. "Ron gave it to me. He wanted me to pass this on to Brian... but I didn't think I should. I just don't trust Ron. And the way he gave me these pills and wanted me to slip them to Brian on the sly -- that didn't sound right to me at all. Ron said they were for anxiety, but I wasn't even sure what they really were."

"Thanks for giving them to me and not to Brian, Vic. I really appreciate it." Justin opens the container and spills the little white pills out into his hand. "Yeah, it's Xanax. But Brian isn't supposed to be taking these. They are highly addictive. See what it says on the prescription?" Justin points to the label. "Xanax is a controlled substance. You aren't supposed to be passing the fucking things around like candy! And Brian hasn't been taking these pills or seeing this Dr. Hall for months. This is a new prescription -- which means this guy wrote it on Ron's say-so. He's a goddamn quack!"

"That's a very serious charge, Justin," I interject. Both he and Vic look up at me. "I can't imagine that Ron would do that. What would he have to gain by giving Brian medication? Perhaps he really needs it. Brian seems pretty anxious to me. At least he certainly was in the limo. Maybe Ron and this Dr. Hall believe that the Xanax might help him calm down a bit?"

"You don't understand the situation, Ben, so fuck off!" Justin says, angrily. "This summer Brian was taking these things by the handful courtesy of the eminent Dr. Hall! He had a hard time getting off of them -- and I'm NOT going to let anyone get him started on them again! He doesn't NEED them! Especially not now that I'm out here." Justin pours the pills back into the container and then shoves it into the back pocket of his khaki pants.

"I'm sorry, Justin," I apologize. "I didn't mean to butt in. You know Brian a lot better than I do. It's just hard for me to believe that Ron would do anything to hurt Brian. He loves Brian! Ron must truly think those pills will help him. It just sounds like a difference of opinion to me."

But Justin looks me in the eye, challenging me. "So you don't think that Ron would ever do anything to hurt Brian? You have no fucking idea, Ben! I understand that Ron has been your friend for a long time, but you don't know everything about him. You haven't seen every part of him. You have no fucking CLUE about what he's thinking and what he's capable of doing, Ben! But I DO, believe me!"

Now I realize that Justin is jealous of Ron and that he's fully prepared -- just like Michael -- to see the worst in him. Both of them are angry because they think that Ron 'kidnapped' Brian last December when the two of them left for Los Angeles. They think of Ron as some Machiavellian character who is full of evil plots and schemes. Michael once told me that he was certain that the only way Ron could have gotten Brian to leave Pittsburgh was to hypnotize him! I couldn't help but laugh when Michael came up with that one. But I do understand the depth of anti-Ron emotion both of these guys harbor. Because they are both so fixated on Brian and believe that they know him so well that when Brian does something they think is out of character, then it MUST be the doing of 'The Evil Ron'! Of course, that assumes that Brian has no free will and no ability to make his own decisions -- good or bad. Which is patently untrue.

But this charge Justin is making about the pills is more serious -- and more troubling. If what Justin says is true -- and I have no reason to doubt him -- then Ron is obtaining bogus prescriptions for Brian and then passing the drugs along to him. But what Justin might not know -- or want to believe -- is that Brian may well be a willing participant in all this. If he's abused Xanax in the past -- and I know that Brian has always been a big drug-taker, no one could ever say he hasn't been, even Justin -- then he may be using the Xanax of his own volition, with Ron as a kind of go-between. I don't know. That's merely speculation on my part. But it IS troubling no matter what the scenario. Very troubling.

"Hi ho, guys!" Jimmy Hardy walks onto the set like the famous movie star he is and suddenly it's Party Time. There's an entourage of assistants, studio gentlemen in suits, and make-up and tech people surrounding him -- with Brian about two steps behind. From the hesitant, apprehensive figure I saw in the limo, Brian looks transformed into the man I am more familiar with -- smirking, poised, and impossibly handsome. In that blue silk shirt Brian positively glows. I can feel that Justin wants to jump up and run over there -- the kid is like a coiled spring -- but he stays in his chair, afraid to make a move. Debbie reaches over and squeezes his hand. What a screwed up situation!

Jimmy Hardy sees us all sitting there at the side. He immediately steers his entourage in our direction. He holds his hand out to Debbie. "YOU must be the famous Debbie!" He pulls Deb to her feet and kisses her hand. "And a vision, may I add? You ARE going to the party after the premiere?" He looks up and grins at us. "Of course you are! You're ALL going as Brian's guests, right? And MY guests, too! I insist!"

Jimmy turns and gives Brian a sly look. Brian blinks a couple of times and smiles slightly, sniffing. I stare at Brian. Then I look and see Michael and Justin staring, too. Because now that we can see him up close it's obvious that Brian is high -- or he's getting there very quickly. We have all seen that same expression too many times to doubt it. Whatever it is that Brian's taken, it must have happened back in that dressing room after they kicked Justin out....

I catch Justin's face and he looks halfway ready to cry and halfway ready to murder someone. He starts to move forward, but Jimmy grabs his arm. "Hey, Baby Blue! Nice that you could be with us tonight. Why don't you sit down right here? Why don't all of you nice folks just relax? Because the show is going to start in a minute, okay gang?"

"Brian...." Justin starts to say. Brian shoots Justin a look, but can't speak to him because the entourage hustles both Brian and Jimmy over to the set and out of reach. I notice that two of the guys in suits are standing next to us, obviously positioned to make certain that we all keep quiet. I feel like I'm in the custody of the Men in Black -- only this time it's is more like the Men in Dark Gray.

"Look -- there's Larry," I hear Debbie say in a low voice. She doesn't want to piss off our two babysitters. The host of the program comes out on the set wearing his trademark dark pants, white shirt, and suspenders. He looks a lot older than he does on TV and is a bit stooped. And he's much smaller -- like his set -- than he seems on screen, but then everything looks bigger on television. Larry vigorously shakes Jimmy's hand. It's clear that Jimmy Hardy has done this show before many times. He and Larry chitchat like old pals. Brian also shakes the host's hand. He's blinking a lot and beginning to sweat, but he seems calm. Spaced out, but calm. I hear Justin take a deep breath next to me.

"Is he going to be all right?" Michael asks. His hands are fidgeting in his lap.

"I think so," says Justin, gritting his teeth. "I hope so."

The technical people position everyone at the table and put mikes on them, with Jimmy sitting the closest to Larry and Brian next to him. The lights up there are extremely bright and Brian squints a little. A make-up woman reaches over and powders the sweat off of his face. Then Brian whispers something to Jimmy and Jimmy whispers back. I catch Jimmy Hardy's assistant, that woman who Justin says hates him, standing at the side, glaring at no one in particular. I touch Justin's arm and point to her.

"Peggy," he says in my ear. "I bet she's the one who slipped something to Brian. Unless Jimmy did it himself. I wouldn't put it past either of them."

"But why?" I say. "What's the point?"

Justin sighs. "Why not? It's a quick fix to them. Brian is nervous, so give him a fucking pill. Especially prescription drugs. If some phony doctor will give it to you, that makes it okay. It's not like 'real' drugs -- although no one out here has a problem with THAT either."

I understand why Justin is upset, and yet.... "Justin, it isn't as if Brian hasn't done a lot of drugs in the past. Because he has. You know it. We all know it. Even I've gotten high with Brian once or twice. I don't see that it's such a big deal. Really. I think you are over-reacting."

But Justin only stares straight ahead, grimly. "Yeah, Ben, I've gotten high with Brian, but that doesn't make it right. That doesn't make it good. So that makes ME guilty too, I suppose. But he hasn't been drinking or taking any drugs in months. He's been trying to clean up his life. Trying to stay on the wagon -- which is hard for him in this atmosphere. So it makes it that much worse that these people -- who don't give a shit about what this stuff will do to him -- just slip him something to calm him down. That's such an easy out for them. And for Brian, too." Then Justin lowers his voice so that only I can hear him. "And I figured that you'd gotten tweaked with Brian before, Ben. At the White Party in Miami. He usually gets stoned before he fucks a trick. Once or twice -- or even for a whole weekend."

And I'm floored. I hold my breath and keep staring at the set, waiting for the interview to begin. Michael is only inches away. "I can't believe Brian told you that," I whisper.

"Why not?" Justin's voice is even and cold. "You think Brian has a lot of big secrets that he keeps from me? You think he wouldn't tell ME that? Just because he doesn't want Michael to know? Or just because YOU don't want Michael to know? I'm never going to say anything, Ben, so don't worry. Because I have a little fucking sensitivity. Give me that much credit, at least. But also give me credit for knowing what can hurt my own partner and what can't. I know -- and you don't!" His voice rises a little and Michael turns around, frowning.

"Quiet on the set, please. On air in twenty seconds!" yells the director.

And I sit back, holding my breath again. Just holding on to see what happens next.

Continue on to "When I Paint My Masterpiece -- Part 2", the next section.

©Gaedhal, May 2003.

Updated May 8, 2003.