SOMETHING SO STRONG

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Part 3 of Chapter 109 in the "Queer Theories" series.

Go back to "Something So Strong -- Part 2", the previous section.

The narrator is Justin Taylor, with Brian Kinney, Debbie Novotny, Tim Reilly, Juanita, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian and Justin try to settle in at the loft. Pittsburgh, October 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.

I'm staggering with jet lag and concern over Brian when I drag myself out of bed on Tuesday morning. I've already missed my first class, so I don't try to push it. Maybe if I can get myself together, then I can get to my studio class this afternoon.

The only problem is leaving Brian alone. He says that he'll be fine, but I have my doubts, especially after last night. I keep thinking about what happened when I tried to blow him, about what he said to me about not being safe and I shudder. I'm not afraid -- not at all. Dorian explained to me what the doctor told him and how the possibility of Brian getting infected was slim, but it's in HIS mind, obviously. And now it's in MY mind. Another thing to worry about. Another thing that I have to reassure him about.

I don't know if I'll even be able to function away from the loft today, but I have to try. And I certainly don't know how Brian will be able to handle things when I leave him. I consider just blowing off the whole day and staying home with him, but then what about tomorrow? And in a week he's expected to be in New York on that publicity tour, meeting with the press and going on a bunch of television shows! I just don't see how it's going to happen. He jumps every time the phone rings!

And this morning the phone just doesn't stop ringing. When we arrived at the loft last night, I deleted a ton of messages that Michael and Lindsay and Deb left over the weekend asking if I had heard about Brian's getting mugged or had any information. Emmett and Wade didn't call me because I had told them that I was on a PIFA outing, like I told my mother originally. And this morning I get more calls from Emmett, Daphne, Wade, and Gwen Worthing -- all wanting to know if I'm back from my outing, what's up, and did I hear about Brian? And then some guy from my Art History seminar wants my notes for a class that I missed when I was in England! I kind of laugh and tell him that if he finds any then to save me a copy! With the others I make a little chitchat with and then hang up.

Wade is the hardest to get rid of, as usual. He wants to come over tonight -- what else is new? -- but I tell him under NO circumstances is he just to show up here! After that fiasco where he jerked me off, I don't like Wade just coming over when I'm alone at the loft anyway, but I especially don't want him to find out that Brian is here! He would blab to Ted and Emmett immediately and then everyone would know! I tell Wade that I'm working on a big project and need to concentrate on it and nothing else. Which is the truth -- Brian is the biggest project I can think of and I need to concentrate on him completely while he's here.

Brian is still in bed and not looking like he's going to get up anytime soon when I'm ready to leave for my studio class at around 11:00 a.m. I stretch myself out next to him on the bed and gently stroke his hair. I used to love it when he did that to calm me down and so I do it to him. I tell him that I'm going to class and I'll be back in a couple of hours and I'll bring something home to make for dinner.

He stares at me strangely, and then he whispers, "The minute I'm out of your sight you'll probably forget all about me. You'll be so wrapped up in what you're doing that you'll forget to bring anything back. I'll probably starve to death right here."

I look at Brian and can't figure out if he's kidding or not. "Brian, I'll bring something back. I wouldn't let you go hungry." But he puts his face down in the pillow and sighs. I kiss him and tell him that I love him one more time before I leave.

Of course, I can't focus on anything but him the entire time I'm out of the loft. My hand even starts to glitch up on me at the end of the class and that hasn't happened in a while. I must really be tense!

On the way back from PIFA I stop by the diner to pick up some dinner. I'm just too tired to go shopping and then make something. Besides, Brian has been calling me on my cellphone about every half hour, so I don't want to be gone any longer than I have to.

When I walk into the Liberty Diner I look around and don't see Debbie, thank goodness. I haven't been in there in over a week -- since before I left for England -- and Debbie is sure to ask a million questions. Instead, Juanita is behind the counter and Phil is at the grill.

"Hiya, Justin!" says Juanita. "Deb's on her break. You want me to call her?"

"No, don't do that. I'm in kind of a hurry," I say. I give Juanita my order and hope that I can get away without getting the Spanish Inquisition from Debbie. Fat chance! Just as Juanita is ringing up my food, Deb comes out from the back and sees me.

"Sunshine!" she exclaims. "Where have you been keeping yourself?"

"Oh, I've been really, really busy, Deb. Lots of projects due," I say, taking out the money for the food.

Juanita gets a paper bag and starts to put the containers in it, but Debbie takes over. "Let me do that, hon," she says, smiling at me. And then she sees that I have three styrofoam boxes. "Having Emmett and Wade over tonight, Justin?" she asks.

"Um, no. I'm just really hungry," I reply. "I'm sort of in a hurry here, if you don't mind, Deb." And that's exactly the wrong thing to say.

"Oh, yeah?" Debbie says, suspiciously. And she opens up the first box. "Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, extra gravy. Hmm." She looks up at me.

"I told you I was hungry! So, if you don't mind...." I reach for the containers.

She opens up the second box. "Three lemon squares."

"I'm saving the other two for later," I say, my heart sinking. This was such a mistake! I should have gotten Chinese!

And then she opens the final box. "White meat turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. No mayo." Deb closes the box and then rivets me down with her eyes. "So, how long has he been up there at the loft?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say, grabbing the paper bag out of her hand and stuffing the boxes in it. I toss down a twenty dollar bill and then race for the door.

I'm almost in the driver's seat of the Jeep when Debbie catches up to me. She's a lot faster than she looks. "Hold it right there, Sunshine!" she demands, taking hold of my arm. Debbie is a lot stronger than she looks, too.

"Deb, I told you I'm in a hurry!" I think of the cellphone in my pocket and how it's about time for it to ring again, with Brian on the other end, freaking out!

"Justin, what the fuck is going on?"

"It's none of your business, Deb. So just butt out!"

Debbie's face begins to go red with indignation. "None of MY business? Anything that has to do with you and Brian IS my business! Butt out, huh? Like HELL I'll butt out! You tell me what's happening here! Now!"

"I can't, Debbie," I say. And I mean it.

"Does Michael know that Brian is in town? Does Lindsay? You know that they are both very concerned because they haven't heard from him in a while?"

I shake my head. "No. And please don't tell them. I know they care about Brian, but I don't want a bunch of people rushing over to the loft and pounding on the door!"

"Why not?" says Deb. She frowns and moves her hand from my arm to my face, holding onto my chin. "Justin?"

"It's... not the right time," I reply. "So PLEASE don't go around broadcasting to the world that Brian is at home!"

"Broadcasting? I never BROADCAST!" says Debbie, irately.

I almost spit out my gum at that. "Be serious, Deb!"

"I am, Sunshine." Deb lets go of my face and I get into the Jeep. "Justin, what's wrong with Brian?"

"Just leave it, Debbie. Please." I start up the engine.

"Baby, you can tell me. What happened?" Her face is serious now. "Brian was in England, I know that. And he got mugged over there. Vic was reading something to me about it on the computer. It was on 'E! Online' and the 'Entertainment Tonight' website. A couple of guys stole his watch."

"Right. That's exactly what happened," I reply. "And now he's taking a little down time until he has to go to New York for more publicity. So, please drop it for now. I have to get back to the loft."

"Except," says Debbie. "Since when does Brian wear a watch?"

"Since... a while now. He's got a lot of important show business appointments to keep lately."

"A lot of appointments?" says Deb, her eyes narrowing. "Sure. Which is why he's sitting in his loft in Pittsburgh, eating take out food with you. Tell me another one, Sunshine!"

"Deb, just leave it alone, okay?" Like she would ever leave anything alone!

"Justin...."

"I have to go. Bye." And I back the Jeep away from the curb and pull out onto Liberty Avenue, leaving Deb standing there, her hands on her hips.

Brian opens up the loft door before I even get off the elevator. "Where the fuck have you been?" he says, frantically. He's shirtless, wearing his old jeans, which are hanging on him like they belong to someone else. I hadn't realized that he'd lost that much weight. And the bruises on his side look ugly today. Really ugly.

"Brian," I say softly. "Why aren't you wearing your sweater?" It's getting really cold in the loft, especially when it starts to get dark so early. But I'm glad to see him out of bed.

"I was just going to put it on," he says, following me from the door. "Where the fuck were you?"

"Getting dinner, just like I said I would," I say, setting the paper bag on the counter. "Didn't I tell you that I wouldn't forget?" I turn and put my arms around him. He feels so cold. I try to transfer some of my body heat to him. "And Deb was giving me the third degree at the diner."

Brian nuzzles the side of my neck with his lips. "Please tell me she's not coming over here," he pleads. I sit Brian down at the counter where he stares at me, his hair all messed up. He suddenly looks about sixteen years old.

"She's not coming over here," I say. I hope.

"Thank God," says Brian. He bites at his thumb, nervously. "Your mom called this afternoon. She... asked me if I wanted her to come over...." He hesitates.

"In the middle of the day? Come over for what, Brian?" I say, taking out the containers and opening them up. Then I get out two plates.

"Nothing. Just to come over," he says, avoiding my gaze.

"Wasn't she at work?"

"Yeah, but she was on her way to some house showing or something," he mumbles. "She just wanted to know if I needed anything." He looks up at me. "But I told her I didn't. That I was okay."

I picture Brian holding onto my mother's hand so tightly at the airport last night. How he didn't want to let it go. I'll have to call Mom later, maybe when Brian is in the shower, and find out what that was all about. Maybe she called here and he was freaking out on the phone in some way and she thought she better come over and check on him. This isn't good. It reminds me again of when I first got out of the Rehab Unit -- I couldn't bear going outside and I couldn't stand being alone at home. It was a no-win situation! And it went on for a long time, too. Once again, I think about how patient Brian was with me and it amazes me. But I had almost the whole summer to get to the point where I could do things on my own -- and Brian has less than a week!

I go and get my old PIFA sweatshirt and make Brian put it on. It's really too small for him, but he likes it. He used to wear it all the time when we were on the boat up on the island and I know he won't give me any grief about having to wear it. I pull it over his head and tug it down over his stomach. "How's that?" I say.

"Okay," he answers. "It smells like you."

I sit on the stool next to him at the counter. I'm starving and I inhale the meatloaf while Brian just toys with his sandwich. "You have to eat ALL of that," I insist. It seems I'm always trying to get him to eat something. The sandwich looks so dry to me, but I know he won't put anything on it to make it more palatable. Crap! I should have gotten the Chinese food instead. I might have been able to spoon it into him easier. And Debbie wouldn't have figured out that Brian was here.

We are eating the lemon squares when we hear it. The pounding on the door. "Shit!" says Brian, his face desperate. "Whoever it is -- get rid of them!" And he dashes for the bathroom so quickly that he knocks over the stool.

I'm not at all surprised to see Deb standing there with more food in her hands. "Deb, I'm kind of busy right now. And we already ate dinner."

"This is for later," she says, nudging me aside. She drops the containers on the counters and notes the barely touched sandwich and the nibbled lemon square. And the tipped over stool. "All right, Sunshine -- where is he?"

"Deb, please just leave. I'll talk to you about this some other time." And I try to take her arm and lead her to the door. Which is impossible.

"Justin, what is going on? Tell me! What's the big mystery? You know that I almost brought Vic over here with me to get the story out of you two? I thought you might be nicer to HIM than you were to ME earlier." Deb definitely sounds hurt.

"I'm sorry, Debbie. Really I am... it's just that...." But I have no answer. No cover story that sounds even close to plausible. "The truth is that Brian got knocked around when he was mugged. And he doesn't want anyone to see him."

"Why the fuck not? I'm not going to take his picture, for heaven's sake! And it isn't as if I haven't seen him belted around before -- because I have! Tell Brian and his ego to get over it!" She cranes her neck, trying to see up into the bedroom. But Brian is still locked tightly in the bathroom. And I know he won't come out while she's here. Which could be a long, long time! Suddenly Debbie marches up into the bedroom and begins banging on the bathroom door. "Brian! Get the hell out here! Right now!"

"Deb, please!" I say.

"Now YOU butt out, Sunshine," she says. "Brian. I'm waiting."

"I'm busy, Deb," comes the reply.

"Bullshit! Come out of there -- or else I'll stand here until you do." She looks at me. "And I won't let Sunshine eat, sleep, or piss until you do come out!"

I shake my head. But the door opens and Brian stands there, looking like a fucking ghost, he's so pale. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" says Deb. She reaches out to touch the healed over scrape on his face. She should have seen it a few days ago!

"Please -- don't touch me, Deb," says Brian. "Are you satisfied? Will you go now?"

But Debbie doesn't miss much. He's tried to wrap up his wrist again, but the bandage is falling off. And the cut on his neck is still very red and angry-looking. Thank God he put the sweatshirt on and she can't see the bruises over his ribs.

"Sit down -- here." Debbie backs Brian up and sits him down on the closed toilet seat. Then she unwraps the bandage on his wrist and rewraps it. "Justin, do you have any surgical tape?"

"Yes," I answer. "Plenty." I bring out the little kit with the gauze and tape and ointment from the hospital that Dorian handed over to me. Deb takes the kit from me and then carefully tapes the bandage in place.

"What else?" she says, very business-like, which is always the best way to be with Brian.

"Nothing!" he says. But I sigh. It's inevitable now.

I pull the sweatshirt over his head to show her. She looks angry for a moment, then regains her composure before Brian can see the look on her face. I know his side is hurting him, but I'm not certain if taping it up will help. Brian sits there, impassively, as Debbie takes a look. "Has he been to his own doctor since he's been in town?"

"Not yet," I reply. "We just got in late last night."

"I can hear you," Brian says.

"I'm sorry," I say. He hates it when people talk around him. I know what THAT feels like and I hate it, too.

"Take him and get him checked out," says Debbie. "Do it tomorrow."

"NO! I've had enough of doctors. I DON'T need a doctor!" Brian says. "And that's THAT!"

"Well, I think you do," answers Debbie.

"You don't know everything, Deb!" Brian says.

"But I know YOU, kiddo!" Debbie replies. "I've seen this stuff before, remember? I helped you then and I'm trying to help you now. Someone really kicked the shit out of you and you need to be taken care of!"

"I AM being taken care of. By Justin. And I don't need any more people trying to 'help' -- I've had enough help, thanks. I need to be left alone. WE need to be left alone." Brian pauses. "And it was TWO guys who kicked the shit out of me. One couldn't manage it -- even if I WAS fucked up at the time."

"I've warned you, Brian," Deb admonishes. "That you'd get into trouble one day! Didn't I warn you?"

"One day? Deb, I've been in trouble for years. This is nothing... Nothing at all," he whispers.

Debbie looks over at me. Her eyes are so worried. "I guess... that Justin has everything under control, then. I brought more food for later. So, you eat it! And not just an old sandwich! Okay?"

"Okay," he replies, sullenly. And Debbie leans over and kisses him on the forehead.

I walk Debbie downstairs and out to the car. I can tell that she's very upset. "Justin, what really happened? He's really... messed up."

I keep my face as bland as I can. "You should have seen him before," I say. "But the worst stuff isn't on the outside, Deb. It's on the inside."

Debbie flinches. "What DID happen, Justin? You can tell me, hon. I... won't repeat it. I swear to Jesus!"

I open the door to her car and she gets in. And I slam the door, a little too hard. "What the fuck do you THINK happened, Debbie?" I say, angrily. "What do you think happened?" I repeat, my voice dropping to a whisper. "And please don't come back over without calling first. I mean it!"

And I stand and watch Debbie drive away before I walk back up to the loft.

***

The next day is Wednesday and I have a fairly light schedule. I'm able to go to the store after class and stock up on a few things. The fridge has been really empty and we need everything from milk for me to guava juice for Brian, not to mention every other staple in the book.

I jump out of the Jeep and walk up to the door with my grocery bags -- and Tim Reilly comes up to me. He's been waiting for me outside the building. Just what we need right now! Another fucking busybody!

"Justin, let me help you with those," he says, and takes one of the bags from my arms.

"I can do it myself, thanks, Tim."

"Justin, I was at the house with Vic when Deb came home last night. She was very upset about Brian."

"So? What gives her the right to come over and stick her nose in things and then go off and blab to you and Vic? I wish everyone would just mind their own fucking business!"

"Justin, you and Brian ARE her business. You know that. You two are as much her boys as Michael is."

"I'll file that away for future reference," I say, coldly. "Anything else? Because now I have to get upstairs." And I open the building door.

"Justin, please speak to me for a few moments," Tim says. "That's all I ask."

He seems sincere, but.... "Tim... I...." I don't want to talk to him. Tim is a nice guy, but I don't feel comfortable with this. All this 'caring' reminds me of when they were all infantilizing me after I got out of the hospital. Talking about me. Talking around me. Talking down to me! Treating me like I couldn't make my own decisions. And I can't stand to see them doing it to Brian, too. I just can't!

"Please?" he begs.

And I sigh. I relent. I fucking give in. I lead Tim up to my studio and open the door. We set the groceries down next to the door. I gesture for Tim to take one of the old chairs I have down here, and I flop down in the other one. "Okay. I'm listening. But make it quick because I've been gone a while and need to get back upstairs to Brian."

Tim looks at me as if he's not certain how to begin. If he's going to falter now, then what's the point of coming over here? But finally he speaks. "Justin, I'm sure you already know that Brian and I had a... relationship at one time. And I feel that I might have a little insight into his... problem. His fears."

"A relationship?" I say. "Right. Brian has fucked every guy in this city with a pulse and I'm supposed to listen to ALL their takes on Brian's 'problem'? Forget it, Tim!" Now I'm starting to get really mad. "I know that Brian likes you, Tim, and he has no animosity towards you, and I know that you and Vic are all cozy, and that's just great. Fine! But I have to tell you that it squicks me out that YOU took advantage of Brian when he was really vulnerable -- even helpless! Just like Ron did."

Tim looks sick. "Justin, I... I...." he stops.

"I'm sorry, Tim, but it's the truth! Both you guys would say you were 'helping' Brian, but you were using him!" Yes, I think, just like everyone else used him, only THEY pretended to be so fucking 'selfless'! And the fact that Tim was a priest and Brian was in his care makes it so much crummier in my mind.

"Justin, please hear me out! Because what I have to tell you could be relevant to what's affecting Brian right now."

"Oh, yeah? How so?"

And he proceeds to tell me. I know awful things happened to Brian in New York. Brian has told me some of them. And others I've seen in my dreams -- my nightmares! That was bad enough. But back in the Pitts he was supposed to be safe. At Father Tim's halfway house for troubled boys! Right! What a fucking joke!

It's one thing to KNOW that bad stuff happened to Brian. To dream something and see it through a haze of sleep and time. And it's another thing to hear it from Brian himself, whether he's making light of it or denying it completely. Then it's filtered somehow. It's... easier to take from Brian himself. But it's a different story to hear Tim's account. The eyewitness to something so nasty and humiliating and traumatic that I almost can't endure it. He tells me what he saw, what those other boys did. How he walked in on one them at St. Lawrence House, a hulking punk named Miller, 'taking advantage' of Brian. That's how Tim puts it! So delicately! How it had been going on for a while. How they didn't call it rape because he went along with it -- like he had any fucking choice in that place! Because it was easier to let it happen than get beaten up, again and again. Forced, again and again! That Brian told Tim that it didn't matter anyway because he would always just be somebody's bitch! It makes me sick to my stomach to listen to this story.

And then how Tim tried to pick up the fucking pieces. Tried -- and failed, obviously. Just as everyone who has tried to 'fix' Brian has failed. Which is why I can't fail. I can't! But hearing what happened to him at the halfway house just adds to the magnitude -- and hopelessness -- of the whole fucking situation! "What did you do, Tim?"

"The wrong thing, I imagine," he says, his eyes veiled. "Miller and the other boys were taken away, back into detention. I never saw them again and neither did Brian. But they never had to answer for what they did to him. Never had to apologize. And no one did a thing about it. Nothing. I told Brian's therapist, Dr. Finer, but he could never get Brian to talk about it. Not a single word. And neither could I. The only thing I could do was...." He looks down at his hands. I notice that Tim has very beautiful hands. They would be nice to draw. He glances up at me. "To try to comfort him. Hold him at night. I really thought I was helping him. But I was just using him, too."

"At least YOU admit it," I breathe. I can feel the bitterness rising inside of me.

"I don't blame you for being angry, Justin. I don't blame you at all! You SHOULD be angry," he says. "SOMEONE should be angry! Brian -- he never blamed me for anything. After his big dinner at Papagano's, we met and talked. I wanted to apologize then, but he ended up apologizing to ME! Blaming himself for the whole situation. For corrupting ME! For turning ME into a queer! Of course, I already knew I was gay, but I couldn't admit it. Couldn't face it. Brian had nothing to do with that. If anything, he helped me face what I was and what I had to do with my life -- which was to leave the priesthood."

"But that doesn't erase the fact that you... you used Brian!" I say. "You DID! When you were supposed to be protecting him!"

"Yes, Justin. In the end I was like all the others, taking what I wanted and telling myself that I was giving Brian what... what he was asking for." Tim stops, his face stricken. "That's... that's what one of those boys said. I just remembered. The ringleader of the gang. 'He was asking for it!' Oh my God!" cries Tim. "And I did it too!"

I sit there, watching Tim freak out now! This is ridiculous! "So, Tim... what am I supposed to do now? I'm glad YOU are coming to terms with your fucking guilt and everything, but what about Brian? I can't erase the past all by myself! I wish I could, but I just can't!"

"Let me go up and talk to him," says Tim, standing up. I sigh again. Tim is not going to go away. I know that. Maybe he might even do Brian some good. Reassure him. We carry the groceries upstairs and go into the loft.

Brian is watching television. One of those afternoon shows for women where they have a lot of soap opera stars and funny contests and make-overs. Emmett loves those shows. Brian turns around and sees me and Tim. He shakes his head. "What the fuck are YOU doing here? Does everyone in this fucking town HAVE to come over here and fucking gape at me?" He stands up and stalks up into the bedroom. "Thanks a fucking BUNCH, Sunshine!" he adds, sarcastically.

"Brian, Tim wanted to talk to you," I say, following him.

"If I wanted to go to Confession, I'd look up Father Buttfuck at my mother's church -- or at the baths! So tell Tim to hit the road!" Brian lies down on the bed and rolls over, turning his back to me.

"Brian," Tim says, standing next to me. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry. Sorry for everything...."

"Skip it, Tim!" says Brian, sitting up. "I don't need to hear your fucking 'apologies'! I'm sick of everyone apologizing to me! You. Ron. Dorian. Kenroy. Harry. Debbie. The fucking Queen of England and the whole Royal Family! Funny how it's always about how bad THEY feel! About how sorry THEY are! It's always all about THEM! And I'm just the excuse for everyone to relieve their own fucking GUILT! So Deb didn't report my old man to the cops? Big deal! So Ron couldn't stop me from tricking and getting out of control out in L.A.? What else is new? So Dorian didn't stop me from going out that night and getting the piss kicked out of me and...." Brian stops. His hands are shaking. "So the fuck what? And YOU didn't know about Miller and those other creeps fucking me at St. Lawrence? Well, let me tell you, Tom -- you aren't guilty. No one is! It's all misplaced. I'M the only one who's responsible for what's happened to me! Back then and now and tomorrow! I'M the only one. ME! And that's IT! That's the fucking truth! So leave it alone. Just... leave it alone...." And he turns away again, burying his face in the pillow.

"Brian, please...." I say, my voice trembling.

"But Brian," begins Tim. "I just want you to understand that you aren't to blame for...."

"But I AM to blame, Tim!" Brian shouts from the bed. "I know it. I can... accept it! So forget it! I give YOU Absolution, Father Tim! You and the whole gang! And Stan, too, down on the Bowery! Why not? And Miller and his pals at the halfway house! And fucking Keef and Mac, too! Include them in! I absolve you all, like the Pope! Now everything is just peachy! So get the fuck OUT!"

"Brian...." I gasp. I feel a tightness in my chest, around my heart, and I can't breathe. I fall to my knees next to the bed and start to cry! Like a goddamn little faggot! I can't stop myself.

"Now see what you've done, Tim? You've upset Justin. Thanks for that! I hope you enjoyed yourself here." Brian gets up off the bed and knees next to me, wiping my tears away with the back of his hand. "It's not worth crying over. Really. It isn't," he says, softly. Then he gets up and pushes Tim out of the bedroom and towards the door. "It's time for you to hit the road, Father. And don't come back with the entire posse, because I won't let them in. No interventions, no fucking prayer circles, no bags of Debbie's fucking food! Just stay AWAY! All of you."

"I'm so sorry, Brian," says Tim. "I never meant to upset you -- or Justin. I was just trying to help."

"NO more fucking apologies!" yells Brian, sliding the loft door shut behind Tim with a heavy clang. One of the bags of groceries is on the floor next to the counter and he kicks it out of the way.

Then Brian sits down in the middle of the loft on that cold, bare wooden floor. And HE starts to cry. I mean, really weep in a desperate way I've never seen before. It's shocking to me because it proves how much this has affected him. Because Brian almost never cries, at least in front of me. For me there's always a brave, stoic face. But he can't keep that up anymore. Can't hold it in another minute. And it's more upsetting to me than all his agonizing silences and denials.

And I go over and sit down on the floor next to him and put my arms around him. And I keep crying, too. For everything. For the abused child, cowering in his room. For a scared boy on the streets in New York City. For a jaded kid at a halfway house in Pittsburgh. For the damaged man in front of me. And I just hope that eventually we'll both be able to stop.

Continue on to "Shelter from the Storm -- Part 1", the next chapter.

Updated February 26, 2003.