This is Chapter 69 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Partly Cloudy, Chance of Rain -- Part 2", the previous section.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, featuring Justin Taylor, Sir Kenneth Fielding, Sybil Milton Symonds, Albert Symonds, Kenroy Smith, Travers, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian and Justin end their weekend in the country. Sussex, July 2002.
Author's Note: My beta's stomach is flipping. I hope in a good way!
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 don't sleep more than five minutes all night because I keep watching Justin. I have to make sure he's all right. He's restless, but there are no obvious nightmares. His eyelids keep fluttering, but he still sleeps. At one point I think I hear him say something -- but I can't make out what it is. After that, he's quiet.
I go down shortly after it starts getting light out, hoping to avoid the other guests -- and Gerry, too. The plan is that after I drink something -- whatever I can get, actually -- to clear my head, I'll call a taxi to come and drive us back to London. Or at least to the nearest train station, which is probably at Rye.
I walk into the dining room and Sir Ken is sitting at the table, having his tea. He stands up when he sees me.
"Brian, I thought I might see you rather early this morning."
"Well, yeah...." I don't know what to say. I'm not in any mood for a social conversation.
"I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of calling Mr. Kenroy Smith to come down and pick you up."
"That really wasn't necessary...."
"Oh, but it was, dear boy. I feel quite responsible for bringing you down here and now just as responsible for getting you back safe and sound, especially after what the two of you endured last night. There's no excuse at all for what happened to the boy. I hope he's well this morning?"
"He's still sleeping."
"The best possible thing for him." Sir Ken pats my shoulder. "Although I wish you and Justin would stay through at least luncheon and then leave with Hughie and I, I can't imagine that you would want to."
"You're right -- I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to. But how will you and Hughie get back?"
"Hitching a ride with Sybil and Albert. He must be at his job in the City bright and early on Monday morning, so it will be no bother at all to go back with them. The whole weekend has ended on a rather tail-between-the-legs note, I'm afraid, with everyone scattering in all directions. The dread Fiona has already decamped. And the children -- Adele and Billy -- will undoubtedly be leaving early as well."
"Sorry to fuck things up so thoroughly, Ken. I owe Harry an apology for that."
"You had nothing to do with it. You were perfectly correct to upbraid Fiona and Syb for what they did to the boy. Although I hope you realize that it was never intentional."
"I know. But the impact of it...." My voice trails off.
"And they could have had no way of knowing that he was vulnerable... mentally."
I bristle. "There isn't a goddamn thing wrong with him mentally! Quite the opposite!"
"Perhaps I meant emotionally, dear boy. Fiona must have hit a raw nerve connected with that terrible incident that happened to him. That's the most probable explanation. I'm certain that there will be no permanent harm done. He's a resilient fellow," says Sir Ken. And then he smiles. "He must be to tolerate YOU, my boy."
"Well, that's another story altogether," I say, glumly.
"Do have some tea. Perhaps some Earl Grey? That's my choice for a good wake-up."
"Do they have any herbal teas? Chamomile? Or mint or something?" I always feel like an old woman asking for herbal tea, but all the coffee I've been drinking lately has definitely been giving me the shakes. And I'm in no position to badger Justin for any of my medication.
"Certainly. There's an entire assortment. And plenty of hot water in the urn over on the sideboard."
I help myself, pouring in a ton of sugar to give myself some kind of rush. I drink it and find that it's not half bad. Some kind of wintergreen flavor, like chewing gum.
"You look like you haven't slept much, Brian. But at least the boy is getting a good rest"
"I hope so." I have no idea what he'll do or say when he finally opens his eyes, having slept the sleep of the dead all night long. Then I will really have to begin dealing with things.
"I'm certain he will be just fine. The young bounce back from adversity and carry on in ways that an old man like I can only imagine."
"I think you seem pretty resilient yourself, Ken."
"Ah, but nothing like I was when I was young! I was totally fearless. And I had to be. No one admitted they were homosexual in those days. You could be arrested and sent to prison on any pretense if they thought you were a pouf. If I'd had any idea of what was before me back then! Why, you would have thought in the theater world it would a different story, but people were so afraid. By the time I decided that enough was enough and decided to go public -- well! It was like I'd broken the rules of a secret society! I mean -- how many are truly out, even now?"
"Poor Harry isn't."
"Nor likely to be. Or even our Gerard. He's 'romancing' poor little Adele Phillips-Smythe in public -- but it's her brother Billy who he's screwing on the side!" Sir Ken lowers his voice as he says this. Gerry and Billy -- I should have seen that one first thing. I think about those fake 'dates' with Diane and really feel like a hypocrite myself. But at least Diane knew the score -- while little Adele is obviously infatuated with Gerry.
"Ken, I think you must be the posterboy for queer survival."
"Oh! I like that image! I LIKE the thought of being the posterboy for SOMETHING! I, alas, was never a beauty, like you."
"Give me a break, please."
"There's nothing wrong with beauty, Brian. It's a gift, but a talent, as well. Women realize this and they use it to their advantage. Make being beautiful into their careers. But men are ashamed of it in themselves. Denigrate it. In that way they deny a great part of themselves. Your beauty IS a part of you, so don't reject it."
"Right, I wouldn't be here IF, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah, I know where my 'talent' lies."
"But that's only a part of it, dear boy. You really have no idea, do you?"
"Dear me, you'll find out someday. Perhaps when 'The Olympian' is released. Perhaps sooner. Did you never watch the dailies? Or any of the outtakes from the film?"
"Not really. Ron thought it would freak me out."
"I hate to be one to criticize so talented a director, but I think that was a mistake in judgement on his part. You should see yourself. I don't think you realize exactly the impact you have on screen. You have a real charisma."
"Sure. I know. Especially in leather pants. Or no pants. Ron told me more than once that I did my best acting with my butt -- my arse, if you will. I'm under no illusions about just why I got the part -- or what kept me in the film."
Sir Ken raises his brows. "Well, if you will be so kind as to excuse my language, I must say that Ronald was completely fucked for saying that. It is absolute rubbish. And to say such a thing to ANY actor, let alone one with whom you have -- or did have -- a... personal connection is inexcusable."
"So send him a postcard and ream him out about it. 'The Olympian' is already in the can. And my relationship with Ron is in the toilet. So, it's too late now, anyway."
"But not too late for your career, certainly. That is just beginning."
"If you say so, Ken. But I'm making sure that Justin keeps up with his studies. He may have to support ME before too long when I can't find a job."
"I don't think you'll need to worry about THAT any time soon. You have talent, Brian. All you need is confidence in that talent. There will be many more roles for you, I think," says Sir Ken, pouring himself some more tea. "And Justin can continue his studies without worrying that he has to take care of YOU, my dear. Although I think he's already doing that, isn't he? He really IS a beautiful boy," he muses, smiling.
So, I think Sir Ken has a bit of a yen for Justin. Well, he does like the young ones -- and Justin is even younger than Hughie. And look who's talking. I certainly can't blame Sir Ken when I'm caught up in that beauty myself.
"I better go up and pack."
"But, dear boy -- you've eaten nothing!"
"My usual breakfast, then. A drink and a little bit of nothing! Although if the drink is a Bloody Mary or a shot of Jim Beam, that's even better than the herbal tea!"
Sir Ken touches my arm. "Seriously, Brian -- please watch that kind of thing. Don't joke about it. I've seen the most talented men of my own generation of actors ruined by the drink. Richard Burton. Oliver Reed. So many more. I would hate to see you go that way when you have so much to offer. And someone to stay sober for."
I drain down the last of the herbal tea before I head upstairs. "Right. See you, Ken. And thanks for the advice."
When I go into the room Justin is awake, but still in bed. He doesn't seem himself at all. He's distracted, agitated. I decide to play the 'everything is normal' card -- even while I'm packing up to make our escape.
"If you're hungry, I can bring something up. Everyone seems to be sleeping in this morning -- except us." I shove clothes into my suitcase without even folding them.
"Not really hungry," he mumbles.
"Last chance to get more kippers," I joke.
"You want to take a bath? There should be plenty of hot water at this hour."
"Brian? Are we leaving soon?" He's still made no move to get up.
"If you want to. Or we can stay for lunch. Or whatever you like. I thought we could get an early start and do something back in town this afternoon."
"I guess so." I try to think of something to snap him out of this un-Sunshine mood -- at least a little.
"You know, if you liked the horse thing, they have riding in Hyde Park. We could look into it. You could take lessons. That might be something for you to do during the week when I'm working."
He cocks his head, considering this. Please -- say anything. Show that usual enthusiasm.
"That might be fun. But I don't have any riding clothes of my own."
"We can get those. The full regalia, if you insist."
"I was thinking if I could get a camera. Not like my automatic, but one I could practice taking some real pictures with, not just touristy snapshots. Maybe learn to develop my own photos."
I feel a little creep down my spine at this one. I know exactly where THIS is coming from. I picture Rowan, with his hairy red arms, showing Justin how to take pictures. Taking him around the city. Doing things with him.... But how can I say 'No' at this point?
"Sure. We'll look around for something. It shouldn't be too expensive."
"Are we really going back now?"
I turn around. "Only if you want to. Kenroy Smith is coming down with the car. He'll leave whenever we say so."
"I think I want to."
"Okay, then. Get dressed and we'll go when he gets here."
Justin gets out of bed very slowly, like someone recovering from a long illness, testing his legs to make certain they work. He seems paler even than usual. But I don't push him. Don't make a big deal about it. Just like after he got bashed -- let him take it at his own pace, with a slight prod here and there. And a little prod might not be completely out of place.
"Hum -- what's this?" I say, stroking his ass as he stands by the bed. "Feels kind of smooth. Soft. How many chances do I get to guess what it is?"
"How many guesses do you need?"
"I might need quite a few. I'm pretty slow on the uptake. Maybe I better examine it further."
I cup his rear and make a reach for his cock. But he just kind of grabs me and hangs on, like he's suddenly afraid of falling. So there's no sense in pushing anything. I'm just trying to get his mind off everything, off all the weirdness of this weekend. He just clings to me for a few minutes and lets go. Yes -- take your own time, sonny boy.
"Hey, you better get dressed," I say, turning back to the suitcases. "I don't want you parading around here letting it all hang out. You might forget yourself and go wandering down to breakfast like that."
"Sure. Like I'd do that." He's looking around for his robe, but I've already put it in his bag. I hand over my own robe. He puts it on and stands there, the fabric dragging on the oriental carpet.
"And Sir Ken is downstairs," I warn. "You have to watch out for him. He's got his eye on you."
"Don't make things up!" says Justin, looking for a pair of clean briefs in his case.
"It's true!" I insist. "He was in the dining room when I went to get some tea and he wondered where that 'beautiful boy' was."
"You liar," he says, grinning now. He looks so funny in my long robe, trying not to fall over it as he navigates around the room. I actually want to lay him down and spread that robe out across the floor -- but there's no time for that. "Sir Ken never said I was 'beautiful'!"
"I never lie. I may embellish the truth a bit, but that's an Irish thing and I'm allowed. You want to make the story good, so you 'curve' it a little. But this time I'm just quoting Sir Ken directly."
"He REALLY said that?"
"Certainly. I'm simply reporting what he told me. But then I had to threaten to punch him out, of course."
"Punch out Sir Ken? Why?"
"Because nobody is allowed to call my boyfriend 'beautiful' except me. That's a rule of gay etiquette."
Justin's eyes widen. "WHAT did you say?"
"I said that it's a rule of gay etiquette."
"Brian! You said I was your boyfriend! You've never said that before."
"Sure I have. You just weren't listening." Like this is something he could ever forget. And now that I've said it -- I could probably say it again and not spontaneously combust.
I have to turn away and bury myself in my suitcase. I can't let him see the look I know is on my face.
"Get a bath, get dressed, and get packed. We're blowing this pop stand as soon as Kenroy Smith gets here with the Rolls."
Travers knocks on the door to tell me that the car has arrived. It's only been an hour since Sir Ken told me that Kenroy was bringing the car down, so he must have been up especially early and called him to come here. I really owe him one for that.
Justin is only just getting out of the bath. I don't want to hurry him, but I also want to get out of this house. I'll feel better back in town. And I regret for about the thousandth time this morning that I didn't follow my own instincts and rent a car this weekend to go off on our own. Up to Cambridge to look at the colleges, or out to Bath to see the Roman ruins, or anywhere else but here.
Finally, Justin is dressed and packed. One thing I remember is to slip the riding crop that came with his riding gear out of the bedside drawer and into my suitcase. Just in case someone needs to ride a horse any time soon. Or ride anything else.
Travers collects our suitcases and we follow him downstairs. Kenroy Smith is standing in the big entry hall, talking to Sir Ken. He waves when he sees me and Justin.
"You made good time."
"I got a good head start on the Sunday traffic." He smiles. I wonder if he has a wife, a family -- or anyone who might be annoyed that he is always on call, always rushing off to pick someone up and deliver them to their destination, day or night. "And I was happy to come down."
"I want to thank you, Ken, for seeing to this," I say. "I appreciate it. Justin has been...." I look around and don't see him.
"I think he went down the hall to the dining room, my dear."
"Probably to get something to eat. I'm sure he's starving to death." I keep looking around. I feel uneasy that he's out of my sight, even though I know that Fiona the psychic has already bolted from the house.
"Excuse me. I just want to see where he's gone."
I go into the dining room -- and find him sitting with Sybil and Albert! That fucking Sybil! I want to grab her by the throat -- but Justin is sitting quietly next to her, talking and drinking a cup of tea. I have to wind myself back down. Not over-react. I can't even make myself look at Sybil, she makes me so fucking angry! So, I just focus on Justin.
"Hey," he says, looking up at me.
"Getting some breakfast?"
"Yeah. I thought we wouldn't get a chance to eat for a while." He's got some toast on his plate and a piece of fruit. Nothing else. It looks more like my plate than his usual.
"We were just having a tiny bit of breakfast before we head for church," Sybil says to me, like nothing at all has happened. Church? Fuck me! "There's a darling little parish church nearby we always go to when we are down here. It's not terribly old. Early Victorian, Gothic Revival. But quite nice. Would you boys like to come along?"
I just stare at the woman. "You have to be... " I stop myself. I'm fucking censoring myself for this bitch! "I don't think so. We're leaving as soon as Justin finishes eating."
"I'd like to go," he says, looking at me and then at Sybil. "I want to."
"What? I thought you wanted to get out of here? Mr. Smith has already put our luggage in the car!"
"Can't he wait? Kenroy won't mind waiting until after church, will he?"
I don't believe this. "Don't you want to go? NOW?"
But Justin looks at me searchingly. "Would you mind? Waiting, I mean?" He turns to Sybil again. "Is it far?"
"Not at all, darling. Just down the road. And Albert's Ford is parked right outside." She gets up and Albert pushes his chair out, too. "We'll meet you outside, dear, in five minutes. Would that be all right?"
"Sure. I'll just finish my tea."
Sybil and the old man leave and I sit down in her chair, next to Justin. "Are you fucking crazy? What do you want to go anywhere with them for, let alone to church?"
"No, I'm not crazy. Although sometimes I feel I might be going crazy," he says quietly and, once again, I want to kick myself for my stupid word choice. "I just would like to go, Brian. I know it sounds weird to you -- but I'd like to."
"They didn't say something to you, did they, Justin?" I have this sudden strange notion that Sybil is some kind of religious fanatic trying to convert him. But I realize that's absurd. It also steams me that Sybil hasn't even apologized to Justin! Instead of taking HIM to church, SHE should be the one down on her knees, asking HIM to forgive her for last night's fiasco! But the woman is clueless.
Justin shakes his head. "I'd just like to. Do you want to come?"
"No fucking way. I'll wait here until you get back." What next? Square dancing?
He gets up and we walk out to the entrance. Sybil and Albert are shaking hands with Sir Ken.
"Brian," says Sir Ken. "Mr. Smith was just saying that since you aren't leaving this moment, why doesn't he drive you all to church? Then you can leave directly after."
It's a fucking conspiracy. But before I have time to protest, Justin says, "That would be nice. We'll all go in the Rolls."
"Oh!" exclaims Sybil. "Riding in high style! Not like the old Ford, right Bertie?"
Kenroy opens the door of the Rolls. It makes me ill to watch Sybil stepping into the car like a duchess. Albert piles in after her, then Justin.
He turns and gazes at me. "Are you sure you won't come?"
I look at his face and get into the fucking Rolls. "I'll just ride along. But I'm not going in there."
"But it's a lovely church, Brian," says Albert.
"I don't care if it's Westminster fucking Abbey! I'm not going into some church on Sunday morning! It's the principle of the thing."
"Brian has some Catholic issues," says Justin.
"But this is a C of E church! Church of England, not Catholic. No problem there. That's all right for YOU, isn't it, Justin?"
"Is that sort of like Episcopalian?"
"I believe so."
"That's what my family is. My school, too. So, that's okay. But it would be okay no matter what church it was."
"He's a very ecumenical boy," I say, still trying to figure out what he's trying to prove.
The place isn't far. The Rolls pulling up in front definitely gets the attention of the locals. Sybil sweeps out of the car and into church like a real drama queen, Albert trailing after her. Justin starts to get out, too.
I hold his arm. "What's this all about?"
"It's just something I have to do, Brian. I can't explain it." He looks at me as if he's asking for permission.
I shrug and let him go.
Kenroy Smith and I watch the locals go into the church while the bell in the tower starts ringing. It's like a damn movie. Something from the 1940's or '50's. Everyone looks old-fashioned and the churchyard seems more like a film set than a real place.
Kenroy offers me a smoke and I take it gladly.
"Not one for religion, Mr. Kinney?"
"That is a fucking understatement." I flash on my mother, on her knees at mass, week after week, and later day after day, praying for -- what? For my old man to stop boozing? A new kitchen table? World peace? I never understood what it was all for.
"Sir Kenneth told me the boy had a small upset over the weekend."
"You might say that."
"Perhaps he just needs a quiet place to think. Even if you don't believe, it can be a place to gather your thoughts. To try and put things into perspective. You know -- the big picture? Even I've spent the odd moment thinkin' it over in church and I'm not one for praying."
"Well, I prefer to do my thinking in more congenial places. Like a friendly bar. Or in bed."
"Makes you nervous that he's in there, does it?"
"NO! Why should I give a shit?"
"Dunno. But you obviously do."
"Because places like that are full of hypocrites like my goddamn mother. People who think they have the only line on the Truth. And those are just the people likely to take a bat to anyone who doesn't conform to that Truth. And I can never conform." I blow a large ring of smoke out over my head. I haven't lost that knack. "They also lay on the guilt -- and Justin doesn't need any more guilt trips. Neither do I."
"But I'm sure not everyone in there is lookin' to brand anyone or paint anyone over with blame. Maybe it's something else he's lookin' for." Kenroy Smith nods in the direction of the little church.
"Then it's something I can't understand."
"Maybe you don't always have to understand, Mr. Kinney. Maybe you just have to be accepting yourself. And not judge."
We smoke and wait. It seems a long time, but it's actually less than an hour, as I watch by the clock in the tower. Finally I can hear loud organ music -- shit, but I detest organ music! -- and that seems to signal the end of the barbecue.
The people pour out. It rained last night and earlier this morning, but the sun is out now and the place looks more than ever like a scene from a sappy old film. Everyone is dressed up, especially the kids, and the priest, or minister or whatever he is, shakes everyone's hand, even Justin's as he comes out with Sybil and Albert.
"Are you ready, finally?"
He smiles at me. That spooky look he had last night and this morning seems to have faded and the Sunshine is back again. I can't believe the relief I'm feeling to see it. "I'm ready."
"What was that all about, anyway?" I say, taking one last drag on the cigarette before I toss it.
"I just wanted to know that I was really in the right place. And that I was glad I wasn't anywhere else. That THIS is where I'm supposed to be. Here -- with you. This little church just seemed a good place to confirm it."
Justin stands next to me, leaning against the Rolls as we watch the other church goers leaving. Some of them look over at us, curiously. I put my arm around Justin. If they don't like it, that's tough.
"You better not be going anywhere else," I say. "Especially after all the effort I've put into your education. Yeah, just try to take off on me. I'll come after you for that VISA bill!"
"Brian!" Now he's really smiling. Thank God.
I still don't understand him completely, but I'm not going to push it. Let him take things at his own speed, find his own way. Even if I have to stand outside sometimes and watch and wonder how the hell he knows what the right place IS? Or how I can know if I'M really in the right place, too? I guess it doesn't really matter, as long as it's with Justin. At least for this little while.
Continue on to "Aperture", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, August 2002
Picture of Randy Harrison and Gale Harold from Showtime.
Updated August 16, 2002