This is Part 10.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Nowhere Man -- Part 9.
Features Brian Kinney, Michael Novotny, Debbie Novotny, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian meets an old friend at the Liberty Diner. September 2000.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Wednesday, September 6, 2000, continued:
"How did you get here, Brian? Where are you living now? Where did you GO after you left Pittsburgh? How long are you staying in town?" Michael threw questions at Brian's head furiously.
"Please! Stop!" Brian held up his hands. "I can't answer ALL these question at once! I'm okay. I'm doing well." Brian paused to take a breath. "And I'm only in town because my father is ill."
"Oh, honey," said Debbie, reaching out and rubbing his hand. "I'm so sorry about your dad. Is it something serious?"
"Pretty serious, yes. Lung cancer."
Debbie gasped and crossed herself. "I'll remember him in my prayers, sweetie. And your mom?"
"Oh, she's fine. As... steely as ever."
Debbie Novotny remembered a cold, unyielding woman who was always certain that she had 'right' on her side, whether it was a question of religion or morality or social behavior. But she was also a woman who looked the other way while her young son was bullied and beaten by his father. The same father, the same loud-mouthed drunk, who now seemed to be dying. No wonder poor Brian had a stunned look about him. He was basically numb.
But Brian seemed to have a good job. A professor. That took a lot of degrees and a lot of smarts and he'd always been a smart boy. Almost too smart for safety in that family of his. The Kinneys.
After Brian had disappeared so strangely early in that long, cold winter of 1988, Michael had been convinced that the Kinneys had killed Brian and covered it up. That was the only explanation that made sense to the anguished and imaginative boy, certain that his only real friend would never have abandoned him. Would never have gone away without telling him. That he was dead was the only explanation Michael would accept. Brian was dead -- and his parents had killed him and hidden the body!
Finally, after Michael had cried in his room every night for three months and still Brian didn't return, Debbie began to wonder herself. One afternoon she put on her best dress and coat and made the trek to the Kinney's house. It was in a more upscale but still working class neighborhood not that far away from where Debbie and her son lived then. Still, the well-kept ranches and colonials, with their manicured lawns and late-model cars, contrasted greatly with the rather tired and sagging houses on the street where the Novotny house stood.
Debbie stepped up to the door, took a deep breath, and knocked on the door. She demanded to either see Brian or to know where he was -- or else she'd call the cops! And Joan Kinney had stared at her, her lips pressed together into a thin line. Mrs. Kinney had invited her into the house, but she didn't offer her any coffee. Didn't confide in her. Didn't really explain much of anything. But she showed Debbie some papers from New York granting custody of their now seventeen year old son to someone whose name was unfamiliar to Deb. A Ron Something. And there was a letter from Brian -- Deb recognized his looping handwriting. And a photo of Brian standing in Central Park -- Deb recognized THAT, too, from movies. He was wearing an expensive-looking leather jacket with a fur collar and he was smiling shyly.
"Brian is living there now," said Joan, grimly. "In New York. He won't be coming back to this house again. You and your son MAY understand why." Joan turned away from Debbie in disgust. "As far as WE are concerned, he's no longer our son OR our responsibility. Someone else is seeing to him now."
"I don't understand, Mrs. Kinney...."
"I've already told you. He's living in New York. So, tell your son to forget about him. Forget that he ever knew Brian. Because he won't be coming back." And Joan Kinney showed Debbie Novotny the door and shut it tightly behind her.
To Debbie the whole thing was about as clear as mud. But there was one thing she DID understand -- the Kinneys knew their kid was gay and they seemed relieved to be rid of him. They were all too willing to write off their only son absolutely, as if he had never existed. Debbie just couldn't comprehend it. The coldness of it. The completeness of it.
So, thought Debbie at the time, maybe the kid was better off wherever he was -- and with whoever he was with. If he was with someone who really would take care of him, even love him, in a way his own parents could not. And her son, Michael, would just have to understand.
Only Michael didn't understand. He didn't understand why Brian had gone away and left him. He didn't understand why Brian didn't come back. Michael was desperate to ask Brian these questions. To ask him so many questions! But he had no way to contact him! He couldn't even write him a letter or send him a message of some kind. To tell Brian that he was waiting! Still waiting for him!
And Debbie's gentle responses, her attempts to soften the hurt and to explain the inexplicable, only made Michael more confused and dejected. Michael became seriously depressed. Then sullen. Then defiant.
Some other boys were beating him up. But he began fighting back. Then just fighting. In school. On the streets. Michael was in constant trouble. After his junior year of high school ended, Michael refused to go back. He took a job as a stockboy at the Big Q-Mart over on Buckley, but he didn't keep it long. He stole a few small items and was caught and fired. Then he got a job at a small local grocery store, bagging. But he had a fight with one of the other boys working there and was fired again.
Michael got friendly with some tough boys in the neighborhood. Gang type boys. He was out all night sometimes. Occasionally he was missing for days at a time and he would never tell Deb exactly where he'd been. Michael tried, but couldn't keep a job for very long. In between jobs he spent most of his time at a local gym, building himself up and hanging out with some sleazy characters.
So Debbie wasn't all that surprised when Michael was picked up by the police in the company of a local gang member. The gangbanger had an unlicensed gun and some drugs on him, including cocaine and steroids. Michael got off without any charges, but he didn't change his ways. He was picked up regularly for various petty offenses over the next couple of years. The most time he ever spent in jail was a few days or maybe a week. But he had a record now and it followed him around, making it hard for him to get -- or keep -- a real job.
Eventually, Michael seemed to get his act together and he rejected his bad news pals. Debbie thought it had a lot to do with Michael's growing acceptance of his homosexuality, something he had fought against aggressively for years. Michael had first thought that he might be gay because of the intensity of his feelings for Brian -- feelings that he believed would go away eventually. But they didn't fade even over the years, although they moved below the surface. Deb had recognized her son's difference early on -- she had gone through the same thing with her brother, Vic, when he was coming out -- but after Brian's disappearance she watched Michael fight against it, hard. Deb felt that much of his belligerence and the trouble he got himself into was part of an attempt to deny what he knew was true -- that he was a queer and there wasn't anything he could do about it.
Then Michael met a guy at his gym -- a powerlifter -- who seemed a good influence. Michael moved in with him and seemed content for a time. But he still couldn't hold a decent job. Instead, he did odd jobs around the gym. Or he took day work, loading and unloading trucks, no questions asked, for some guys he knew. He was a small man, but he was strong, his upper body developed from years of lifting weights. And his lover seemed to be supporting him -- Debbie wasn't certain how -- but they were getting by.
But when the relationship with the gym guy collapsed, Michael seemed in free-fall again. He moved back home and lost all motivation to find a job. Instead, he sat around the house during the day, watching TV and reading comic books, and spent all night out in the local gay clubs, drugging himself senseless and fucking his brains out.
And Deb was going through hard times herself. She was working two jobs to support herself, her son, and her brother, Vic, who had returned home to Pittsburgh after years of living in various cities like Cleveland, San Francisco, and New York, with a full-blown case of AIDS. Debbie worked her tail off, worried about her son, and nursed her brother as he died by inches before her eyes. During Vic's last months, Michael seemed to have another turn around. He spend hours sitting with his uncle, talking to him and caring for him, while Debbie toiled on the night shift at the Liberty Diner.
Not long after Vic died, they lost their house. That really brought Michael back to reality. Losing the only home he'd ever known and realizing that his mother was on the verge of losing everything, Michael took a job at the Liberty Diner, washing dishes at night and taking classes in auto and motorcycle repair during the day. Now he worked part-time at a local garage, fixing cars and bikes, and paying his mother a share of his earnings to help with the rent on their apartment. He also still picked up cash at the diner, too, bussing tables and washing dishes while his mother worked the front counter. Debbie always said that it was only temporary, until Michael got back on his feet, but the arrangement had been going on for a number of years now. Michael was almost thirty and still living with his mother. Still looking for his 'Big Break,' as he called it. Looking for something to change his life. So far, he hadn't found it.
But together they were doing pretty well. Yes, Michael had done okay, his mother thought, considering what he'd been through. At least he wasn't in prison, which had been Debbie Novotny's greatest fear for a long time. Now he had a few decent friends, too. And although Michael still went out to clubs and did some drugs and picked up random guys, he wasn't out of control with it.
Debbie got involved in the local PFLAG chapter, which gave her a support group of sorts. And her job at the Liberty Diner, with its proximity to the bars and clubs of Pittsburgh's gay ghetto, kept her in close contact with the local queer scene, so she knew what Michael and his friends were up to most of the time. She made it her business to know. She wasn't about to let her son get swept away from her again. Because he was all she had left.
And he still thought about Brian Kinney. Had continued to think about his best friend -- his first real friend -- through all the years since his defection from Pittsburgh. Every once in a while Michael would mention him, just in passing. Like when they were watching a movie on TV once and Michael said to his mother, "Doesn't that guy look a little like Brian? Only not as good looking." Debbie had to think for a moment what Brian he was talking about, of all the guys hanging out on the scene. But in Michael's mind there was only one Brian. His image -- embroidered on and magnified over the years -- was the standard by which Michael measured every guy he met, every guy he was attracted to, every guy he fucked. And all of them came up wanting. None could compare to the fantasy of Brian Kinney.
And now here he was. Brian. In the flesh. The beautiful flesh. Because he was even more absurdly handsome than Michael had remembered. He'd grown from a good looking boy into a gorgeous man. So tall, with his long legs and graceful neck. His straight brow and nose, almost like a Greek statue. And his eyes, that deep hazel ringed with green and gold. Michael remembered those eyes very well. And now they were looking at him again.
Brian had been a tall, skinny, slightly gawky kid, with big hands and feet that he had yet to grow into, and delicate features, his lips full and his lashes long and sweeping like a girl's. But he'd also been strong and athletic, on both the soccer and baseball teams. He wasn't a star, but a good player growing into becoming an excellent one -- before all that was cut short. Thin, but strong enough to punch out anyone who threatened his smaller friend, Mikey. His 'boyfriend' some of the guys on the football team had mocked -- but they didn't challenge Brian to his face. They knew better. Brian could take a punch -- he'd learned THAT lesson from his old man -- and he could give one back, too. He had never lifted a hand to his father, but he didn't hesitate to take a fist to any jerk who called him or his friend names.
And Michael never forgot that. Mikey worshipped the superheroes in his comic books and although Brian didn't resemble them, with their overly developed physiques, he took his place among them in Michael's fevered imagination. And his imagination was all he had left after Brian left town.
Now this Brian looked rich and well-cared for. He was wearing clothes that didn't seem like they came from the Big Q-Mart's sales bins. And he was so clean and shiny. Michael could smell his hair and his cologne even from a couple of feet away. His hands looked immaculate, not grimy and greasy like the guys at the garage. Michael noticed the expensive watch on his trim wrist. And he also noticed, to his dismay, an even more expensive-looking ring on his left hand.
His mother noticed it, too -- she followed Michael's eyes to that hand and then she shook her head at him. It looked like platinum or something, with a good sized diamond. No, thought Debbie, Brian was telling the truth after all when he told her he hadn't come down to Liberty Avenue to cruise. And, watching Michael's face, she knew that her son was due for yet another very big disappointment.
"Brian," said Michael, his eyes unnaturally bright. "I'm getting off here in about fifteen minutes. Come with me and meet my friends tonight. We're going to Babylon."
"Is that the club down the street? Where the old Traxx used to be?" Brian frowned.
"That's the one! It's a great place. I go there a couple of times a week. It's a good place to unwind."
"I don't think so, Michael." Brian was so soft-spoken, thought Deb. Genteel. "I'm not really into that kind of thing. I don't know how to dance or anything...."
"You don't have to know!" Michael asserted. "Nobody cares about that! It's just a good place to hang out. Listen to the music." Michael's voice was rising along with his excitement.
"I don't know...." Brian hesitated.
"Come ON! What else were you planning to do tonight?"
"Nothing," Brian admitted. And he heard the voices of Ben and his father telling him to get out once in a while. Have a little fun. Meet some guys. Maybe even pick up someone. Brian looked at his old friend, Michael, and knew immediately that if he were going to 'pick up' someone, or, more likely, allow himself to be picked up, it wouldn't be by Mikey.
He was glad to see his old friend, but there had never been any element of desire in their relationship -- at least on Brian's part. If there had been, he wouldn't have hesitated to act on it back then. He did it with a number of guys before he left for New York, some hot, some creepy, and some downright nasty. But never had he wanted to have sex with his little friend. And he hadn't changed his feelings about that, Brian thought, looking at him. Michael wasn't his type at all. If Brian had a 'type.' It really had been so long since he'd even thought about such a thing that Brian wasn't certain what his 'type' was. Older, definitely. Successful. Confident. Even a little domineering. Yes, that was probably it. Like Ron. Like Ben. Like the doctor. Certainly NOT like little Mikey Novotny.
Brian checked his watch. It was still fairly early. Only 9:30. He might go to this club for an hour or so and then make it back to the motel and work on his article for a while. Then tomorrow he had the day basically free. He might take some time to do some research at the library at Carnegie Mellon. Maybe meet Ben for lunch. Ben was always after him to meet some of Ben's colleagues in the Gay Studies Program and this might be a good time to do that.
Maybe Brian would go shopping and buy a few things for himself. Like something new to wear to dinner with Dr. R. Kumar. Brian was going to have to ask that guy his first name. He couldn't keep calling him 'Doc' all the time! Or 'R'!
Or maybe Brian would even buy something he'd wanted for a long time -- like a black leather jacket. He'd had one when he was in New York, an old beaten up thing that Stan had probably stolen off a trick. But Brian had worn it proudly. It was tough, he thought. And sexy. A badge of his trade as a hustler. And Ron had bought him a new one, with a warm fur lining, as a present after he got out of the rehab center up in the Bronx. But not since then. It wasn't 'professional' enough, in Ron's estimation, for a professor. For Ron's partner. But Brian had desired one anyway. Well, why not? He was a big boy now. He could wear anything he wanted to.
And Brian deserved to treat himself after all the shit Ron had put him through recently. And if Ron didn't like it when he came home, then he'd have to lump it! Yes, they'd have to talk out a few new rules when he got back to Indiana. Because if Ron expected Brian to continue acting like he was a teenager obeying daddy's orders, then Ron would have to think again! Right!
"Probably do nothing," Brian repeated. "Go back to my motel. Read. Write a little. Check my e-mail. Go to sleep." Brian smiled. "The usual."
Michael stared at him, hoping Brian was joking. "That sounds horrible! Boring! Well, now you HAVE to come! I won't take no for an answer." Michael's voice had taken on an almost hysterical edge. The thought of Brian -- HIS Brian! -- being THIS close and then losing him was almost more than Michael could bear.
"Why are you staying at a motel, hon?" Debbie asked. Maybe Brian's partner, the guy on the other end of that big ring, was back there. Maybe they had a fight or something. She wanted to warn Michael not to get his hopes up.
"I didn't want to disturb my father. And I thought I could have a bit more room to breathe if I wasn't staying at the house," admitted Brian. "I don't know if you remember my parents, Mrs. Novotny, but they aren't always the easiest people to get along with."
"I'll say, sweetie." She pictured Joan Kinney's stony expression. "And it's Deb, please! Not to be nosy or anything...."
"Except that she's really, really nosy," added Michael.
"Shush, you. As I was saying, Brian -- are they, you know, okay, with you? I mean...." Deb was usually not at a loss for words.
"Yes, Deb, they are okay with everything. They weren't for a long time, but now they are."
"That's great, hon. I just wondered, since you weren't staying with them. And your... partner?" She glanced at Michael, who threw her a dirty look.
"They're okay with him, too," said Brian, not really wanting to detail his marital difficulties to these people. "They were even at the ceremony. That was the first real crack in the armor. After that, they just seemed to accept it. Maybe seeing Ron's family helped. His family has always been very supportive, especially his mother. I don't know, maybe it made my folks see that not everyone is so judgmental. And that took a lot of the pressure off of me. It's difficult to do things with your family when they are staring at your partner like he's some fiend from the bottomless abyss!"
Michael was scowling openly now. This line of questioning was NOT what he wanted his mother to get into. The last thing he wanted to hear about was his fantasy lover's happy relationship with some perfect dream man!
"That's sweet, Brian" smiled Deb. "When was your ceremony, hon?" She glanced at her son, hoping that he was taking in a large dose of reality.
"Five years ago," said Brian. "Of course, we've been together a lot longer than that, but that's the 'official' number."
"How long?" said Michael, narrowing his eyes.
Brian hesitated once again. Ron always fudged these dates. He didn't want it to seem like he was some sort of chicken hawk. Ron detested that stereotype of gay men and rejected any notion that their relationship was ever the cliche of the teenage boy and the older man -- even if it had been! But what did it matter if Brian told these people? They weren't Ron's colleagues, who might start counting the years and asking embarrassing questions. What the hell. "Twelve years."
Debbie nodded. Twelve years. How about that. Debbie remembered the custody papers in Joan Kinney's hand. It MUST be the same guy. An older guy who Brian must have run away with when he was sixteen. She wished Vic were alive. How he would love this story!
She looked over at her son. And saw how Michael really hated this story. She could see it in his face. But her son must have realized that this guy -- of all the guys who walk into the Liberty Diner -- was not someone's cheap pick up. Not anyone's one night trick. I mean, it was obvious!
"So," said Brian. "You can see that I don't really go to bars or clubs at all. So, maybe I better just go back...."
"No!" cried Michael. "Please? It's been so many years! We have a lot of shit to talk about! Please? Brian?"
Brian looked at the other man's eager face. And the guilt kicked in again. Mikey crying. Mikey missing him. Mikey dropping out of school, tormented by the bullies Brian was no longer there to save him from.
"All right," he said, giving in. "I guess it wouldn't kill me to let the music assault my ears for an hour. I'll go with you, Mikey." Brian smiled. "I'll go with you to Babylon."
Continue on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 11.
©Gaedhal, November 2002
Posted November 6, 2002