WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 5 of Chapter 114 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "When I Paint My Masterpiece -- Part 4", the previous section.

The narrators are Michael Novotny and Ron Rosenblum, featuring Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Jimmy Hardy, Diane Rhys, Ben Bruckner, Debbie Novotny, Vic Grassi, Jerry Baxter, Larry, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian invites the gang on board 'La Diva' for the day. 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.

The party that we go to after the premiere is fucking amazing! There are so many movie stars and television stars and even a couple of rock stars there that I just keep staring at them. Ma and Uncle Vic and Ben and I have a table right in the middle of everything -- naturally, because it's Brian's table -- and we just watch all the famous people go by.

Diane Rhys, this actress who is a buddy of Brian's, sits with us the whole evening, pointing to everyone who walks by and telling us all the gossip about them. Diane is really funny and cute. It's so weird that she's Brian's friend. It's funny to think that Brian has this straight friend, especially a straight female. I ask Diane how they got together and she just rolls her eyes and laughs, "Don't ask, Michael. Brian and I are like 'Will and Grace' on crack!" Ma just loves this girl and wants to take her home to Pittsburgh.

After Justin kind of flipped out during the movie, I thought that Brian would be totally freaked, but once he and Justin arrive at the party and talk to us and then to Jimmy Hardy and his wife, Brian seems to relax and actually have a good time. He has to go and sit with Jimmy for a while and greet all the people who want to tell him how great the movie is and how great he is -- yeah, Brian doesn't hear THAT enough, right? But he looks so totally great, like a real fucking movie star! I can't get over it. MY Brian!

Eventually Brian and Justin come back over and sit with us at our table and I finally get a chance to talk to him. It seems like ages since Brian and I had a real conversation, but we manage it. And it's great. Brian seems so different somehow... I don't know, I never thought he could really change and get past that asshole wall that he puts up to protect himself, but it seems that's what is happening. It's always been like he's Superman hiding in his Fortress of Solitude, but never wanting to come out and save the world. But maybe this whole Fame thing has given him a different way of seeing things. Or maybe it was almost getting himself killed over in England. Or maybe it's Justin. I don't know, but it's nice to see a Brian who isn't afraid to let you know what he's feeling.

Justin goes over to the buffet table and brings back a plate of food -- and Brian actually eats some of it! Justin also brings him a diet soft drink. Brian makes a face, but he drinks that, too. No booze tonight. I guess the joint we shared earlier was his limit for the evening.

And Ron -- he's around, but he's not bothering Brian, thank God. He comes over to the table and speaks to Ma and Uncle Vic, but only to say hello. Both of them act pretty cool to Ron and I don't blame them. I guess he tried to get on their good side and it backfired. It seems that he was trying to make Brian look bad to a lot of people, but I can't believe that Ron would think that my mother and my uncle, who have known Brian forever, would fall for any of that shit. I keep telling Ben that Ron is a creep, but they're still good friends anyway. I know that Ben likes to see the good in people -- it's part of his Buddhist philosophy -- but you can take that too far, especially when it comes to Ron!

Ben seems really subdued at the party. I ask him if he's feeling well -- sometimes his meds do weird things and all the traveling and other excitement could be affecting him -- but Ben says he's just tired. And he looks tired. His eyes look sort of sad. He keeps putting his arm around me, like he's trying to tell me something, so I know he must be all worn out and just doesn't want to put a damper on the party and the fun we're having. I think Uncle Vic realizes that something is up, too. He and Ben seem to tune in to each other a lot. It must be the shared experience of being positive. So Vic says that he's exhausted and needs to go back to our hotel and I can tell that Ben is relieved to go.

The after party is still in full swing, so Brian and Justin decide to stay for a while longer, but Brian makes arrangements for the two of them to come by the hotel tomorrow to take us over to the taping of the 'The Tonight Show.' It's the final big TV appearance for Brian and Jimmy to push the movie before it opens in theaters all over the country on Friday. I'm really excited about this -- and Brian promises that there will be NO fuck ups like at 'Larry King.'

"That's for sure!" says Justin, hugging him. Brian has his bow tie loosened and the top part of his shirt unbuttoned and Justin reaches up and touches that red heart pendant that's hanging around Brian's neck. I guess he wears it all the time. And that's when I know that Brian is in good hands if Justin is in charge. Because I have to admit that no one can take care of Brian the way Justin can, just like the only one to who could get through to Justin after he was bashed was Brian. So it goes both ways, always. Yes, I feel a little pang of regret that it isn't me who is doing it. That it isn't me who is going to stay out here in Hollywood and share Brian's life. And I don't mean the fancy cars and the celebrities and all that crap, because that's meaningless to me. And I know it's meaningless to Justin, too. Just being with Brian -- that's what I always dreamed about. But then I look at Ben and any regret kind of melts away, because I know that I really love Ben and wouldn't have it any other way.

***

At 'The Tonight Show' we all sit in the audience -- except for Justin, of course. He's backstage with Brian and Jimmy, which is where he should be. It's really exciting for me to watch Jay Leno talking to Brian, a guy who I've known almost all my life -- well, since we were in the Eighth Grade -- and now he's a big movie star! I always believed that Brian was the most gorgeous guy I've ever seen, but I thought it was just me. That I believed that because I loved him. But now I know it's because he IS the most gorgeous guy in the world and I just realized it before anyone else! Brian says that makes me his first fan. Maybe not his greatest fan -- that would have to be Justin -- but his first. And that's a big thing for me. It makes me know that I may not be Brian's partner, but that I'm still special to him. That I'm still his best friend and nothing will ever change that.

But Ben is still not feeling right. I can tell. He laughs at Jay Leno's monologue and also when Jimmy comes out and does his usual Jimmy Hardy bit -- joking around with Jay and the band, making fun of himself for playing a fag in the movie, talking about the premiere. Ben seems to be enjoying himself, but it's like he isn't totally here. Then Brian appears and talks about 'The Olympian.' He goes into the experience of making the movie. And Jay doesn't ask Brian the silly questions about kissing a guy that he asked Jimmy. No, instead he and Brian talk about homophobia and acceptance and real theme of the movie, which is how love can conquer hate and even death. Brian is more serious than Jimmy and sounds much more intelligent. It's like Brian is bigger than life. Taller. Handsomer. Sexier. Even Jimmy quiets down and acts like he's in awe of Brian -- which I know he is. It's obvious to me that Jimmy is infatuated by Brian, wife or no wife. But then what guy wouldn't be? I mean, THAT'S Brian!

"Are you okay, Ben? Do you want to go back to the hotel?" I ask after the taping ends. We are all supposed to go to dinner with Jimmy and then tomorrow we're spending the day on Brian's boat. But if Ben isn't feeling well, then....

"I'm fine, Michael. I just have a lot on my mind." And that's all he'll tell me. But I can tell something is really bothering Ben.

Jimmy takes us all to a sushi restaurant and it's lots of fun. Raw fish isn't my favorite -- it isn't Ma's favorite either -- but there is other stuff to eat and we go through a TON of food! Jimmy is obviously a regular there -- I think he's a regular everywhere in Los Angeles! -- and the entire staff caters to Jimmy like he's, well, a movie star! Jimmy wants to try everything they have and he and Ben and Uncle Vic just keep pointing to every weird kind of tuna and eel and seaweed and fuck knows what and the sushi guys just keep dishing it out to them. Ma and I stick to the California rolls and some of the other more recognizable dishes, like rice!

And Brian and Justin are in total 'couple mode' all during dinner. They are just too lovey dovey for my stomach to handle. They keep feeding each other and then kissing between bites -- right in the middle of the sushi bar!

"Brian, don't you think you two ought to cool it just a little?" I say. Because everyone in the place is staring at our group.

"Why? What the fuck do I care what anyone thinks?" he answers, lifting up some rice on the end of his chopsticks and sticking it between Justin's lips. He's got that big mouth of his gaping open like a baby bird and Brian is enjoying stuffing it full.

"Bri doesn't care, Mike. Face facts!" says Jimmy, with a bit of a snippy tone. "He's Hollywood's Official Super Fag!"

"And who made me that, Jimmy?" Brian replies, raising his eyebrows. "You and Ron. You guys wanted me to do 'The Olympian' BECAUSE I was a Super Fag. It sure as hell wasn't because I could act! Mikey is even writing a comic book about ME as 'Super Fag'! So, why the fuck not?" And he leans over to kiss Justin again.

"The character is NOT called 'Super Fag'!" I correct him.

"Whatever the fuck it's called," Brian laughs. And he licks a crumb of rice off the side of Justin's mouth. Ma and Uncle Vic roll their eyes.

"We haven't decided on a name yet," I tell everyone. "Justin and I are still working on the basic concept."

"Hey! That might make a good film!" says Jimmy. "Comic book heroes are hot right now."

"GAY comic book heroes?" Justin asks, popping a piece of some kind of purple fish into Brian's open mouth. Brian chews it lewdly. I mean, really! Why don't they just do it right here on the floor of the restaurant and we can all take pictures?

"Why not?" Jimmy says. "If 'The Olympian' is a huge hit, then why the heck not have a gay super hero? It would be a great part for Brian! And I could be the Super Villain! I've always wanted to play a villain!" Jimmy seems to be warming to the idea. "Maybe you could send me some of your ideas, Mike. I could show them to my agent, Lew Blackmore. He's Brian's agent, too, so that makes it perfect!"

"Don't send him anything, Michael," Brian warns. "Jimmy and Lew will steal you blind. No one has any scruples in Hollywood and that's the truth!" Jimmy grins and sticks out his tongue at Brian. Jimmy is definitely playing up to all of us, but especially to Brian and Justin. Jimmy's wife, Tess, wasn't at 'The Tonight Show' taping and she isn't at dinner, either. Jimmy says that she's visiting her mother in Palms Springs. Brian raises his eyebrows at that and gives Justin a nudge. I think that Jimmy Hardy and his wife aren't getting along too well -- probably because of Brian. So what else is new?

After the sushi place Jimmy takes us to a bar on the Sunset Strip where some third rate rock band is playing. The place is sleazy but really fun. The band is doing all the oldies and Jimmy keeps getting up and dancing like a maniac every time they play a Beatles or Rolling Stones song. So, of course, that's all the band plays. The crowd is going nuts because Jimmy Hardy is acting like a fool right in front of them! They really are loving it! But I almost hide under the table when Ma gets up and starts dancing with Jimmy! They are doing the Twist and the Pony and the Swim and all those dumb '60's dances and the whole place is cheering. Then Uncle Vic gets up and grabs some woman and HE starts dancing, too! And then Brian and Justin get up and THEY start dancing! I mean, they are grinding together like they're at Babylon. I keep looking around for the photographers from 'The National Enquirer' to show up and take photographs of all of them acting like goofs!

The band takes a break and Jimmy goes over to them and talks to the lead singer for a couple of minutes. Brian is signing some autographs for a group of girls who are gushing over him. They are telling Brian how much they enjoy his work. Yeah, strange because none of his movies have been released yet! But all of them are wearing that silly heart pendant and one of them tells Brian that they have been watching the video for 'Baby Blue' on VH-1. I didn't even know there WAS a fucking video! Then Brian poses with these girls, with Justin taking the pictures with their camera.

Jimmy bounces back to our table. "Bri! Get your ass in gear! The band says we can sit in with them!"

"What the fuck now, Jimmy?" says Brian, sitting back and sipping on a diet cola.

"Come ON! Their break is almost over!" Jimmy pulls on Brian's arm. "You have a hit song! You're practically a rock star yourself! So do it with me! It'll be a blast!"

Brian rolls his eyes. "This is all about your Beatle fantasies, isn't it, Jimmy?"

"So? Let's go!"

"Only if Mikey and Justin can do it, too," says Brian. "Mikey can play guitar like we did back in high school."

"Sure!" I say, jumping up. I don't want to be left out of the fun. Ben nods at me and Ma and Uncle Vic start clapping, encouraging us. And Justin starts grinning, so I know this is going to be a blast! I follow Jimmy and Brian and Justin up to the stage. The rhythm guitarist hands me his extra guitar -- a really nice white Stratocaster -- and plugs me into one of the amps. The lead singer gives Justin a tambourine and then adjusts the mike stands for Brian and Jimmy. Jimmy is hopping up and down like he thinks he's Mick Jagger, while Brian laughs at him. Laughs at all of us attempting to be rock stars! Brian strips off his fancy red Prada shirt to show his tight black wifebeater and the crowd hoots and whistles, especially those girls who were over at the table. And Ma and Uncle Vic come and stand in front of the stage, shrieking like groupies.

The band starts to play and I have no fucking idea what I'm doing! So I just follow the guitar player next to me as he shows me the chord changes for 'I Saw Her Standing There.' It isn't that hard. Jimmy is bellowing into the microphone. He doesn't have a very good voice. In fact, he makes Brian and I sound like opera singers! But I guess with rock and roll it's the feeling that matters and Jimmy sure has plenty of feeling. He's also really drunk and that's very rock and roll, too. Brian keeps cracking up at Jimmy -- he's laughing too hard to even try to sing. And he's also laughing because Justin keeps poking his ass with that tambourine.

They go through a few other Beatle songs, including 'Get Back' and 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and Jimmy is in heaven pretending he's Paul McCartney -- but he sounds more like Paul Newman! Then the lead guitarist whispers to Brian and Jimmy. He hands Justin a cowbell to bang on with a broken drumstick. When I see the cowbell I know exactly what song they are going to play next. The rhythm guitarist mouths the chords to me to follow along. After the jerky intro chords and Justin's ragged cowbell punctuation, Brian leans into the microphone and sings --

"I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis,
He tried to take me upstairs for a ride.
He had to heave me right across his shoulder,
'Cause I just can't seem to drink you off my mind!"

And then Justin and I scream the chorus into the mike along with him --

"It's a honky tonk woman!
Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues!"

And then Jimmy struts up to his microphone and yells --

"I laid a divorcee in New York City,
I had to put up some kind of a fight.
The lady then she covered me with roses,
She blew my nose and then she blew my mind! Woo-Hoo!"

And we ALL join into the chorus --

"It's those honky tonk women!
Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues!"

Jimmy tries to do Mick Jagger's rooster moves, flapping his arms like wings, but instead of looking sexy he looks like he's having some kind of fit. Brian has to turn away from the microphone because he's laughing too hard. He comes over and drapes his arms around Justin and me, making the two of us crack up. "Sing it again, Brian!" Justin yells. And so he and Jimmy do the verses over again, while the crowd screams. That's what I really remember about this night -- the crowd screaming and all of us laughing. And I keep looking for Ben in that crowd. But I can't find him.

***

Brian's boat, 'La Diva,' is really cool, but it's really a little small for all of us. Ma and Uncle Vic sit on his two deck chairs, but Brian has to borrow a couple more from Larry, some guy in the next boat, and he sets them up for me and Ben on the back deck. Diane, wearing a pink bikini, suns herself on the front of the boat, while Justin climbs all over wearing nothing but a tiny pair of blue Speedos and a tee shirt that says 'First Mate.' I mean, really -- 'First Mate'! I wonder whose idea THAT was?

Brian makes sure that everyone has a drink and plenty of food. He's got three big baskets of chicken and salad and rolls and fruit that he ordered from some fancy catering company in Beverly Hills. It's packaged all elaborately with linen napkins and plates, but it's actually just picnic food like you get from the Liberty Diner in a paper bag. Of course, we eat almost everything in sight.

It's really hot in Los Angeles in November, in the upper 80's, but on the water it feels cool and breezy. I've never been on a boat before, so I get a little nervous when Brian starts getting ready to take us out for a ride. That's when Brian's boat seems really small and the Pacific Ocean seems really big!

"Oh, don't be a wimp, Michael!" says Ma. She's got a bottle of beer in her hand and she's having a great time.

"Yeah, I've fallen overboard before," says Justin, throwing Brian an obscene look. "But don't worry, Michael. Brian has plenty of life-jackets," Justin reassures me. "If the boat sinks, then we'll all just float until the Coast Guard picks us up!"

"The Coast Guard?" I say, alarmed.

"They're kidding you, Michael," says Ben, patting my shoulder. "We're not going to sink."

"But what if there's a hurricane or something?" I want to know.

"There aren't any hurricanes, Michael," Brian insists. "And I promise that we won't leave sight of land."

Ma and Diane clean up all the plates and put the leftover food away, while Justin checks all the ropes and things to prepare to take off or set sail or whatever they say on boats, when all of a sudden....

"Oh shit," says Brian, looking down the pier. Because Jimmy is heading our way. And he isn't alone.

"Hi-ho, guys!" shouts Jimmy, waving. He's wearing a pair of baggy green and red plaid shorts and a pink Babylon tee shirt! Where the fuck did he get THAT? Unless Brian gave it to him.

"What the fuck are YOU doing here, Jimmy?" asks Brian. You can tell he's trying to keep his temper in check. "And what's HE doing here?" Brian stares straight at Ron who looks about as uncomfortable as any guy I've ever seen in a pair of gray shorts, sneakers, and a Bob Dylan 2002 Tour tee shirt.

"You invited us all down to the boat for a ride!" says Jimmy. "Did we miss the food?"

"I invited MY guests, Jimmy," Brian fumes. "It wasn't an open invitation to every deadbeat in L.A.!" And Brian glares at the two of them.

"Well?" says Jimmy, grinning. Like it's obvious that Jimmy is welcome everywhere. And if he decides to bring that fucking Ron -- well, then Brian will just have to deal with it. "Aren't I your guest? Come on, Bri! We came all this way!"

"Yeah, all the way from Beverly Hills. That's not exactly a trek across the Sahara."

"But it's hot enough!" Jimmy yelps, and he hops right onto the boat, leaving Ron standing awkwardly on the dock. "Hey, Baby Blue," Jimmy says to Justin, checking out his skimpy Speedo. "That's a nice bathing suit that you're almost wearing!"

Justin extends his middle finger to Jimmy. "Quit staring at my dick, Jim! Because this is the closest you're ever going to get to seeing it in person!" It's kind of weird to hear Justin, this bratty twink, being really rude to a big movie star.

"Justy, when you wear a suit like THAT it's an open invitation to sit back and enjoy the view," Jimmy snarks back. "Now who is going to give me a cold beer?"

Meanwhile Ron stands there on the dock like he's a piece of left luggage. "Oh, for fucksake, Ron. If you're going to get on, then get on! Because we're casting off in two minutes!" says Brian, his hands on his hips. And Ron climbs onto the boat. I keep hoping that he'll fall in, but no such luck.

When Ron gets on, Ben immediately leaves his deck chair and goes into the cabin of the boat like he doesn't want to be around Ron. Which is strange because Ben is about the only person on the boat outside of Jimmy who is still speaking to Ron. Something's up, for sure. There's a booth in the kitchen part of the cabin and Ben sits down at the table. Ma, who is in there putting food away, sits down across from him and leans over, talking to him quietly.

I'm about to go in there with them, but Justin gestures to me. "Come up on the bow with me, Michael. It's more fun up here!"

I carefully climb along the side of the boat -- now I'm SURE I'm going to fall in the water! -- and sit down on the front of the boat, with my feet dangling into an open hole. "That's the front hatch," says Justin. "Just hang on. If it gets too rough you can go back inside through the hatch. The bunks are right underneath you."

I look down and see a couple of sleeping bags and cushions. "Since when are YOU the Ancient Mariner, First Mate Justin?" I ask.

Justin smirks. "Since I spent a week with Brian on a boat even smaller than this one last August. Don't worry, Michael. Brian knows what he's doing."

"I hope so!" I reply. And Justin unties the ropes, jumping on and off the boat like a pro. And then we are off. Brian guides the boat through the marina and then out onto the open water. And it looks like a LOT of water!

Brian drives up on top. Justin tells me that's called the fly bridge. Diane and Jimmy are sitting up there with him. I look around behind us and through the front cabin window I can see Uncle Vic sitting on the back deck with Ron, while Ben and Ma are still inside the cabin, sitting at the table and talking. Justin perches across from me on the bow, his feet dangling in the hatch, too. "See, isn't this the best place to sit?" he shouts. The boat engines are loud and the wind is whipping. And the water is spraying up and drenching both of us!

"Yeah, it's the best place for taking a shower!"

"Take off your shirt, Michael!" Justin says. And he peels off his First Mate tee and tosses it into the hatch. His body is so pale that I can already see where the sun has made his arms all red. Ma was chasing him around earlier, trying to put more sun screen on him but he kept getting away!

"And get sunburned like you?" I sniff. "You'll look like a fucking lobster tomorrow!"

He laughs. "I'm working on my tan! I have to if I'm going to live out in Los Angeles." And I guess he's right about that. "Are you mad, Michael? I mean, about me staying out here?" he asks, seriously.

I shrug and put my head down. "I don't know, Justin. It's your life." Yes -- his and Brian's. And I have to accept that. "I'm happy for you and Brian. It's a good thing... I guess," I admit. "But what about our comic book?"

"I still want to work on it," Justin says. "Brian has his computer that I can play around on. And I can fax drawings to you. Eventually I'll have to bring my graphics computer out here to work on things, but I'll make do with Brian's stuff for the time being." Justin looks at me. "I DO want to continue with the comic book, Michael. I know how much it means to you."

"Yeah, well." I'm getting really wet and the boat is bouncing around a little too much for my stomach. I keep thinking of all that chicken and potato salad I ate. I'm starting to feel queasy. "I need to go back inside," I say. And Justin helps me down through the hatch.

He hops down, too, and hands me a sweatshirt that he takes off the bunk. "Brian and I slept here last night, so I brought down some extra clothes. I'm sorry you got wet, Michael. Take off your shirt and put this on."

I put the sweatshirt on and feel a lot better. And drier. "Thanks, Boy Wonder. I mean, First Mate!"

"No problem, Michael." Justin pats me on the back and then climbs back up through the front hatch.

I go into the cabin and sit down next to Ben at the table. Ma looks across at Ben and then she gets up and leaves. I watch her go and then turn to Ben. "Is everything all right?"

"Michael, I..." He pauses. "We need to talk later. Not now. Later," he says. And then Ben gets up and pushes by me, following Ma out of the cabin.

We ride around in the boat for about two hours. It's okay, but I can tell that Brian and Justin and Jimmy and Diane are having a lot more fun than the rest of us. Ron and Ben keep exchanging dirty looks. And Ma and Uncle Vic seem worried. And I don't know what the fuck is going on with anyone!

Finally, Brian turns the boat back towards Marina del Rey and we pull into the dock. It's beginning to get dark. Ma breaks out the leftover food and everyone digs in again. You get really hungry on the water, that's for sure.

Larry, the guy in the nearby boat, comes over and brings some more beer and a couple of joints, which he passes around. He's a real California hippy with long stringy hair and a spaced out expression, just like in the movies. He calls everybody 'Dude' -- and he isn't kidding! Uncle Vic takes a couple of heavy tokes and although Ma refuses to first, even she gives in eventually and has a few puffs. Jimmy takes more than just a few hits. And so does Ron, to my surprise. He seems so uptight! It just looks funny to see a guy like Ron smoking weed like he does it every day. And he keeps staring at Ben almost as much as he's staring at Brian and Justin. Brian sits on the back deck of the boat with Justin in his lap and they both act like Ron isn't there. They act like NONE of us are there, to tell the truth! But especially not Ron. Jimmy is the only person speaking to Ron at all now, and even Jimmy is pretty much ignoring him.

Then Ben leans over to me and asks me if I want to take a walk.

"Sure!" I say. With all the boats and the water and the seagulls and stuff it's really romantic, like in a movie. Everything in Los Angeles seems like a movie to me, I guess. We climb out of the boat and go down the dock, with Ben holding my hand. Ma yells for us not to get lost.

"Michael, I need to talk to you about something important," says Ben. His face is so serious that I begin to get scared. Maybe he's sick and he didn't want to tell me and ruin our trip. Maybe he can't hide it from me anymore. Except that Ben doesn't seem to be sick. He's not puking or anything. He seems fine. But... he's thinking about something. He's distracted. All day Ben has been looking at me so strangely. After Brian docked the boat, Ben got out to stretch his legs for a few minutes and Ron got out, too. I watched them walk down to the end of the dock and have some kind of discussion. Maybe even an argument, although their voices were low. Maybe there's some problem with the book and that's what all the weirdness has been about. Maybe Ron doesn't like something Ben wrote in it. Something like that. And that's why Ben and Ron aren't acting friendly.

"Ben, please tell me what's the matter!" I beg, as we walk along the edge of the marina. I can see Brian's boat in the distance. It's a warm evening. Funny, when I know that it's almost winter back in Pittsburgh. We're leaving on Sunday to go home, so now is the time to enjoy this weather. This beautiful evening. I squeeze Ben's hand. "You can tell me anything, Ben. You can trust me. "

"Michael, it's not an issue of me trusting you. It's an issue of you trusting me," he says. "I... I don't know how to tell you this -- because I know that you'll never feel the same way about me again afterwards. I know that. But there's nothing else I can do. I have to tell you this."

"What do you mean? Nothing you could say can change the way I feel about you, Ben!" I tell him. And I mean it. I do. "I love you -- and nothing can change that!"

Ben swallows. He looks so tan and tall and handsome, like a superhero come to life. Sometimes I have to wonder what he sees in someone like me. I'm not smart or educated or anything like that. But I know he loves me. I KNOW it. "Michael...." Ben puts his hand on my shoulder and looks into my eyes. And then he fucking blows my whole fucking life into little tiny pieces.

Continue on to Page 2 of "When I Paint My Masterpiece -- Part 5".