This is Chapter 21 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the very beginning of this saga.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, w/Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian wakes up -- again. February 2004.
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 open my eyes.
"Are you planning to get up any time soon?"
"Huh?" I squint up at him.
"Good answer," he says. "If you weren't so wasted all day then perhaps you might find something constructive to do with your ample time."
I sit up slowly. I feel confused. My fucking head is heavy and foggy. Like I'm really somewhere else. Watching myself from far away. Watching a scene that shouldn't be playing.
"Fuck," I wince. The light is way too bright.
"That, too." He puts up another shade and lets more sunlight into the room. "It's 10:00, so move your skinny ass."
"We're not fucking this early in the morning," I say, reaching for my cigarette pack. My throat is hot and dry, but I really need this cigarette. "I think I'll go shopping."
"I don't think this is the best time for you to run up the limit of another fucking Gold Card," says Ron. He's glaring at me. What else is new?
"Sorry about that," I reply. I fumble to pull a cigarette out of the pack. Now I need to find my lighter.
"Yeah, you're sorry. Jimmy's sorry. Ross Preston is sorry. The fucking studio is sorry! But I'm still the one Howie Sheldon is blaming because 'The Olympian' went into the fucking toilet! When it was Howie's stupid idea to cast that fucking Ross Preston -- the talentless little prick! But I'm the one who takes all the heat because it's MY fucking movie!"
"So?" I shrug. "Make another fucking movie. They'll forget about this one." The cigarette tastes good. A joint would taste better, but I can't light one now. Not until after Ron gets the fuck out of the house.
"Shut the fuck up! After the fiasco of 'The Olympian' I'll be lucky to get a gig doing softcore porn for fucking Showtime!"
"At least you have some experience doing that," I snipe.
"So do you, Baby, but I wouldn't be bragging about it." He's looking for a shirt. Ripping through the closet angrily. "You're a big fucking help! You should be thinking about getting a job -- soon. There are a lot of ad agencies out here in Los Angeles. Or else Jimmy can find you something in his production company. Anything to get you out of bed, out of the house, and doing something with your time besides getting high."
I shake my head. "I HAD a good job at an advertising agency in the Pitts and I was on my way to making partner. But I QUIT for YOU, remember? I sold my loft and my Jeep and got rid of all of my shit in Pittsburgh because YOU wanted me to stay out here with you. YOU wanted a fucking Hollywood Wife. What's the matter? Not getting enough bang for your buck?" I yawn.
Ron puts on a gray shirt. It's an awful color for him, but I don't say a word. He's clueless when it comes to fashion. "I'm going to have to tighten the budget -- and I'm NOT kidding! I put a shit-load of my own money into 'The Olympian' -- and I lost ALL of it."
"So? Jimmy put his own money into the thing, too, and I don't hear HIM bitching all the time," I say.
"That's because Jimmy has five movies on his schedule and a huge bankroll backing him up," Ron growls. "He can afford to have a flop and lose a bundle! He'll make it back with his next paycheck. But I can't do that! I don't have that kind of cash to lose! I was banking everything on 'The Olympian' being a hit. That's a fucking laugh! The big fag romance movie! I must have been out of my fucking mind even to think about making it!"
"That's another possibility," I mutter. Ever since it became obvious that his stupid movie was a stinker that was going to fail big time, Ron's been running around like a maniac, tearing into everyone who crosses his path. It doesn't surprise me that I'm his current target. "It's not like I spend that much, Ron. Shit! I only buy what I need! Do you want me to look like some kind of a skid-row bum when we go out?"
Ron whirls around. "Excuse me, but the money situation around here has changed! And you'll need to change your expectations -- and your expensive habits! You are going to have to suck it up, just like I have to!"
"I thought that's what I was doing?" I smirk. "You know -- what I do best."
"Get the fuck UP!" he yells. "Now!"
I climb out of bed and wander into the bathroom. Looking at myself in the mirror isn't fun. I look like hell. My eyes are red and so is my nose. I shower and get dressed, then stumble downstairs.
"You missed breakfast," Carmel states flatly. She's washing some dishes in the sink.
"Big fucking deal." I open the fridge. I need something sweet. Juice. Any kind of juice. I pour a large glass of orange and papaya and drink it all down.
Ron comes in. He's wearing a Perry Ellis suit and carrying his briefcase.
"Have a nice day at the office, honey," I say sarcastically.
"I have a meeting with Jimmy at the studio about the European and British release dates."
I shrug. "Maybe they'll like 'The Olympian' better over there. You can put the sex scenes back in -- instead of caving in to the studio like a pussy and cutting them all the fuck OUT!"
"So now YOU are a fucking critic?" Ron huffs.
"I'm only saying. At least then you'd know that you didn't wimp out just because Ross Preston decided he didn't want to show his dick on screen. Or look too much like a fag. Which is kind of hard, since he's playing a fag! Tell me, Ron, what was the fucking point of making the film anyway if you were going to gut it? If you were going to cut out all the stuff that made it what it was? A fucking queer drama! If you had made it the way you intended and then it failed, at least you'd have a failure you could be proud of."
He stares at me because I may be a worthless, drugged out piece of shit, but I tell him the truth. I always tell Ron the truth. Why shouldn't I? I've got nothing to lose anymore. I think that's the only reason he still bothers to keep me around. That and my ass.
Ron takes a step forward and for one second I think he's going to hit me. I brace myself. It wouldn't be the first time. I'm used to people hitting me. How else do you know that they care?
But he blinks and turns away. "It doesn't matter. With the sex scenes or without them, the picture is fucked. I worked 10 years of my life to get 'The Olympian' made -- and it's fucked before it even opens because my hot young star sucks air. He can't act to save his life and he has zero chemistry with Jimmy. Ross Preston plays Bobby like some smirking frat boy!"
I feel sorry for Ron. I thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown during the filming, but post-production was even worse. It was obvious from the beginning that the movie wasn't going to work, but it was too late to do a fucking thing about it. The studio didn't want to get rid of Ross Preston and there was really no other straight actor who would touch the part.
"You should have hired a real fag, Ron," I say. "Shit -- even I could have done a better job than Ross Preston!"
"Thanks for the advice," he says. He's not even angry anymore. He's just completely defeated. "I have to leave now."
I want to say something to him. I used to be able to say things to him that weren't designed to cut into both of us. But now it's beyond our ability to say anything important anymore. So I don't. I'm a big fucking coward. I never used to be. I don't know what's happened to me. I don't know who the fuck I am these days.
"If you go out and take the Mercedes try not to run into anything," Ron remarks.
I bristle. "What happened to the Mustang wasn't my fucking fault! I told you that!"
"Right," he says grimly. "You're just lucky that I got there before the cops did or they would have hauled your ass in for DUI -- again! So be careful!"
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," I murmur.
Ron whirls around. "Listen to me, Brian! You want me to put your skinny ass into rehab -- again? I'll slap you into the Spencer Pavilion this time. You won't be able to walk out of there as easily as you walked out of Haven of Hope!"
"Haven of Hope," I sniff. "All that 12-Step horseshit!"
"Don't push your luck, Baby!" Ron warns. "You'll be on the street in five minutes if I say the word!"
This is getting old. Ron's tried to throw me out about 100 times before -- and he can't. I know it and he knows it. He's as hooked on me as I am on... well, let's not go into that. Which reminds me that I have to call my dealer the second he's out the door.
Finally, Ron leaves. Carmel gives me another dirty look before I shuffle out of the kitchen and settle myself in the poolhouse. That's my own little sanctuary. Carmel never comes in here and Ron rarely does. I can make my calls in peace, or get high, or go on the computer and cruise the chatrooms. It's a lot faster and simpler than going down to WeHo. I don't like to waste time.
I check my phone messages. I've had my cell turned off since last night. Even I need my fucking beauty sleep.
Messages from a couple of guys I've tricked with recently. I save one and delete the other. A message from Jimmy. And another. I wonder what Ron would do if he knew about THAT? Probably freak out completely. He's a little possessive when it comes to Jimmy, even though I know for a fact that they've never fucked. Ron really should have cast me as Bobby -- at least the sex scenes with Jimmy Hardy would have been realistic!
A message from Mikey in Pittsburgh. That's odd. I almost never hear from anyone back there anymore -- for good reason. I guess they got sick of me telling everyone to fuck off. Except good old Mikey. He's still trying.
I mean, how much clearer did I need to make myself when I sold the loft and my Jeep and had all my shit sent out here? I thought that sent a fairly explicit signal that I wasn't coming back. Ever. Period. That my life in the Pitts was over. I grit my teeth and listen to the message.
"Brian," I hear Michael's shaky voice. "Please call me. It's... important." He pauses as his voice breaks. "Please call me back."
Shit! The only thing I can think of is that Vic finally died. That sucks, but what am I supposed to do about it? I punch in the number. I can't believe I still remember it. Even in my stupor, I guess old habits die hard.
"Brian?" I hear Michael's chirpy voice. "Brian! You called me back!"
"You said it was important, Mikey," I reply. I look at my watch. I have to get moving soon and contact my dealer or I'm going to start feeling like shit. I don't like to wait to cop until I feel desperate. That's so fucking low class. That's so fucking Bowery. "Is it Vic? When did it happen?"
"I... no," says Mikey. "It isn't Vic. Vic's okay, Brian. He's doing fine."
"Christ, Michael!" I say, getting pissed off. "You sounded so morbid on your message that I thought somebody had fucking died! What the fuck's the matter with you?"
"I... I didn't want to be the one to call you," he sniffs. "But nobody else would do it. I thought you should know. I thought you'd want to know."
"Know what!" I explode. "Jesus! Will you tell me what's going on?"
"It's Justin," he answers.
I stop. Something cold grips me inside. "What the fuck do you mean? What about Justin?"
"He... he's... gone."
I swallow. "You're a liar, Michael. Why are you saying shit like that?"
"I'm sorry, Brian. Justin... Justin was shot. He was killed by a guy in an alley downtown. I didn't want to be the one to tell you, but... but I thought you needed to know. The funeral is tomorrow."
He's wrong. He's lying. Why is Michael lying? Why is he saying this to me? "Shut up, Michael! Justin is in school. At PIFA! He's living with Daphne. He's fine!"
"No, Brian." Mikey's voice sounds far away. "Justin dropped out of the Institute after you sold the loft. He moved in with another kid, a musician, but then they broke up. Justin would never say why, but something happened that turned him off the musician. Then he met this other guy at the Gay and Lesbian Center. They were starting self-defense classes and... and Justin got involved with some kids who were patrolling the streets, like the Guardian Angels. A kind of gay vigilante group. Justin hooked up with their leader, Cody. But then the group got into some trouble. They were picking fights with people and throwing things at cars driving down Liberty Avenue. The vigilante group disbanded. But... but by then Justin was living with this Cody. Daphne said that she knew they had a gun. Justin told her that he was getting back at everyone who had ever hurt him. That he'd show everyone that he wasn't some scared little faggot. That the gun made him feel powerful. That it made him feel alive again."
"That's bullshit!" I yell. "Justin would never touch a gun! You're lying again, Michael! He wouldn't! He'd never do that!"
"It's true, Brian." Michael's voice is in pieces. "Justin and Cody picked a fight with some guy coming out of a straight bar downtown. They had gotten into trouble for doing that before. Making out away from Liberty Avenue and trying to get a rise out of straight people. This guy mouthed off at them, so Justin and Cody chased him into an alley and Cody took out his gun to scare him. But the other guy... he had a gun, too. And he... he shot at them." Now I hear Michael crying. And I can hear Debbie in the background, cursing at me. Cursing at the world. "Justin was killed instantly. Brian? Are you listening to me? Do you understand? No one expects you to be there... at the funeral. But I thought you'd want to know."
"It's a fucking lie!" I scream into the phone. I stand up and throw the fucking cellphone against the wall. It breaks and falls on the floor. I stomp on it until it's in a million pieces. "THAT is for lying, you son of a bitch! Because it isn't true! It's NOT! NO! No fucking way! No! NO!"
"No!" I cry out. "NO!"
"Brian, what's wrong! Are you all right?"
I sit up. My heart is racing. I'm fucking shaking.
Justin is staring at me, his eyes wide with fear. I look around and I don't recognize anything. "Where am I? Justin!" I clutch at him like a fucking child!
"Brian, it's okay. We're in your room. In Springhurst."
Justin hangs on to me like I'm going to fall. And I feel like I AM going to fall. "Fuck," I whisper. "Fuck." It's all I can say.
Justin holds me for a long time, trying to calm me down. Then he gets up and walks into the bathroom. He brings back a glass of water and I sip it slowly. But I'm still shaking.
"Now I know how you must have felt," Justin says softly. He takes the glass and sets it on the bed table. "After I got bashed. When I had all those nightmares and screamed out in the middle of the night. I heard you yelling and that scared the shit out of me."
"I'm okay now."
"I don't think so, Brian." Justin touches my face. "Are you going to tell me what it was you were dreaming?"
I swallow. "That was no dream."
"Nightmare, I mean."
I shake my head. "It wasn't that, either." I put my hands over my eyes, as if I can rub away what is still in my head. That image of myself. Of Ron. The phone call. It wasn't a dream. It was another reality. Another Stream of my fucking life. I know it was. But I can't tell Justin. I can't repeat it. It would kill me. And it would kill him too.
"I don't remember," I lie.
He knows it's a lie, but he doesn't push it. Instead, he eases me back against the pillows and pushes against me, his arms wrapped around me. In a few minutes he's sound asleep again. But I'm wide awake. I get up and piss. Then I go to the window and stare out at Lake Chautauqua.
The wind blows curls of snow across the frozen surface of the lake. It's so cold and so hard. Inside I feel just the opposite. I feel hot and soft. I used to be like that lake. I was hard as a diamond and as cold as February. Not because I wanted to be, but because I had to be. To survive. It continue with my existence, day after rotten day. And now I'm all turned around. I was fucked up before and I'm still fucked up, but in a different way. Trying to be a different person without making myself unrecognizable. Like waking up in this room every morning and not remembering where I am. Having to take a few minutes to get my bearings. To resituate myself.
Justin makes little noises while he sleeps. Gus makes similar noises. The sleep of someone whose conscience is clear. I lie down beside him. What the fuck am I going to do? I'm afraid to let him too near me and I'm terrified to let him out of my sight. I'm fucked up. Big time.
I close my eyes and take another chance on sleep.
"You boys going out?"
Sylvia stops us at the door. Both Justin and I are bundled up. Justin brought my long winter coat, gloves, and a scarf from my closet in the loft, and he's got his heavy jacket, his Cambridge scarf, and a knit cap on his head. When he put it on I told him that he looked like Ali McGraw in 'Love Story.'
"We're going into the village to redeem my prize at the coffee shop," I say. I wave the gift certificate in Sylvia's face. "Want to come along and be our guide?"
"I think you'll find it without much trouble." Sylvia grins. "McKinley is basically two streets with a little park in the center. Just walk around the square and you'll find Brewed Awakenings. Get the banana nut muffins. They're the best in town. And also the only muffins in town."
"That's what I'm getting!" Justin laughs. "A banana nut muffin! And maybe a couple to bring back to the room for later."
Sylvia pushes open the door for us. "Have fun. And don't forget that dinner is at 5:00 on Saturday, so don't fill yourselves up too much."
"I always save plenty of room for La Cuisine de Springhurst," I deadpan. Then I take Justin's arm and we go out to the Jeep.
Sylvia was right. McKinley is pretty small. Mainly businesses that cater to the summer crowd, like gift shops and ice cream parlors, that are closed for the season. But Justin points out the pizza place. And a little Chinese restaurant, too. That should cover our future take-out needs.
Justin parks the Jeep next to the snow-filled square and we get out. It's bitterly cold, but it also feels good to walk outside. Like my head is clearing for the first time in ages.
Justin romps around the little park like a puppy playing in the snow, tossing snowballs. He throws one at me and misses me by a mile.
"You throw like a girl!" I yell. I throw one back and hit him on the shoulder. "See? It's easy!"
"Don't challenge me, Old Man!" he laughs.
He runs by me and I grab the end of his scarf to reign him in. "Let's not get all wet. We'll fucking freeze out here. Do you see the coffee place?"
"Let's walk all the way around the square," he says. "We should find it."
I take Justin's hand as we walk. Sometimes I hesitate to do that. You never know about people and how they'll react. If we were in Pittsburgh I'd never do it outside of Liberty Avenue. But if we were in L.A. or New York I'd definitely do it. Well, this is New York -- State. So what the hell? I don't give a shit what other people think anymore.
We pass a few locals and they either smile at us or ignore us. I see two women I recognize from Springhurst going into the drug store. Then I see the sign for Brewed Awakenings.
Inside it's warm and smells like cookies baking. We go up to the counter. An older woman and a teenage girl are working. I hand them my gift certificate for the latte and muffin. "Make it the banana nut. It was recommended highly."
"Okey-dokey," says the older woman. "And what about you, honey?"
Justin unwraps his scarf from around his face and pulls off his hat, shaking out his long blond hair. "I'll have the same."
"Heavens!" says the woman. "I thought you were a girl!"
Justin raises his eyebrows. "Not recently!" he laughs.
"See? I told you. It's the way you throw a snowball!" I almost tell Justin to pull out his dick to prove it to the woman, but I guess this isn't the right venue for that. I don't want to get us banned from the village the very first time we go out.
We take the cups and plates over to a table by the window. There's a fireplace in the corner and two girls are sitting in front of it, drinking hot chocolate and giggling. A woman with a toddler is reading the newspaper. And two old men are playing chess at a table.
"What do you think of small town life so far?" I ask Justin.
"I like this place. It feels good here." He smears some butter on a piece of muffin and gobbles it. "The muffins are as good as advertised. I'll have to tell Sylvia."
"Don't encourage her," I warn him. "She already thinks she knows it all!"
"So," says Justin. "Are you going to tell me what last night was all about?"
I look away, avoiding his eyes. "You mean my surefire system for winning at Bingo?"
"No, Brian," he says. He reaches over and rubs the back of my hand. "That nightmare. You said it wasn't a dream. What was it?"
I take a big gulp of the latte. "Nothing."
"Brian, tell me. I'm your partner. I love you." He leans closer. "Isn't that why I'm here?"
"I think... it was a glimpse. Of something. Another... something." I take another gulp of latte.
"An Alternate Stream?" Justin takes a deep breath. "I dream about them all the time, Brian. Like the one where we're in the Old West on a stagecoach! And I know that this isn't the first time you've dreamed one, either."
"But it was always when I went to bed drunk or high. Then I could blame it on the booze or the drugs." I shake my head. "Not this time."
"Was it... something bad, Brian? Was I in it? Were we together?"
"No," I say carefully. "I was with Ron. At the house in the canyon. Except 'The Olympian' was a flop. Ross Preston starred and was terrible."
"Well, duh!" Justin editorializes.
"Yes, duh. So it was strange. Awful. I was stoned all the time and Ron's career was tanking. And then...."
"Then?" Justin coaxes.
"Something happened to you," I say. I can't look at him. "Michael called me. It didn't make a lot of sense. Something about a vigilante group and a gun. About you going out and picking fights with straight guys. It didn't sound like anything you would do in a million years."
"Brian, the only gun I've ever touched for real was Ron's -- and that was only for a minute."
"I know. Maybe that's what it was all about. Ron's gun. And it got all mixed up in my head. Dreams mix things up all the time."
Justin gazes at me. "Except you said it wasn't a dream. What happened to me, Brian? Tell me."
"You were killed," I say bluntly.
Justin winces. He picks up another fragment of muffin and then sets it down again. "Guns do that. Kill people. I wouldn't, though. You know I'd never have anything to do with guns or vigilantes! It's crazy!"
"Normally you wouldn't, Justin," I state. "But if you were angry... angry at being bashed. Angry at me for leaving you. Angry at the whole fucking world. Then you might. You might try to get back at everyone who had hurt you. Anyone might do that. And then...." I can't say anymore.
"But I didn't, Brian." He holds my hand and squeezes it. "Whatever any of us may have done in another place, another life -- it doesn't matter now. Because THIS is what we're living. In THIS Stream. THIS life. You can only live one life at a time, Brian. I think."
"I don't know how fucking well I'm doing with this life," I tell him. "But at least I'm HERE. And so are you. I guess that's something."
Justin grins at me. "It isn't just something, Brian. It's everything. You and me. I won't forget that if you won't."
"No, I won't forget." I smile -- a little. "As long as you're around to remind me."
Continue on to "If It Feels Good Do It".
©Gaedhal, July 2004.
Posted July 1, 2004.