This is Part 5
The other sections in "The Angel Stream".
The Fieldstone Inn, March 2005
"This is dumb," Brian grumbled, pausing the Vette at the Stop sign.
"Turn left here," Justin instructed, looking from the map to the crossroads. "It should be about a mile down this road."
"This is a fucking waste of time," Brian continued.
"Well, we could go back to the Antique Market," said Justin. "We've already spent the whole morning there. We could spend the afternoon there, too, if that's what you want to do?"
"No!" Brian almost shouted. "No more Antique Market! Please!"
Brian had allowed himself to be coaxed back to the Market first thing on Saturday morning. And the fruits of that return trip were in the trunk of the Vette: two vintage Barbie dolls for Molly and a Lionel train set for Gus from the Tommy and George toy collection, some old magazines that Justin was planning to use to make collages, an antique necklace for Justin's mother, small presents for Debbie, Lindsay, and Melanie, and an original movie poster for an obscure Marlon Brando film that was one of Brian's favorites, 'One-Eyed Jacks.' That was the only real find of the day, Brian thought. He wasn't certain what he was going to do with the poster, but the moment he saw it, he wanted it.
And then there was the cookie jar.
That was also in the trunk. Against Brian's wishes. Against his principles. Against everything that he stood for as a man and a queer.
A fucking cookie jar.
A cookie jar in the shape of the fucking pink flamingo.
"No way!" Brian had hissed when Justin's hands went around the hideous piece of crockery. "That's too horrible even for Debbie Novotny! Every time I'd go into her house and see it, I'd get physically ill!"
"I wasn't thinking of getting this for Debbie," Justin replied. "I was thinking of getting it for myself."
"Jesus, Justin! What do you want a monstrosity like this for?" Brian couldn't fathom it. Justin was an artist with an excellent eye -- at least Brian thought so. Why in the fucking world would he want this... this pink horror?
"It's funny," Justin explained. "Silly. Having it around would be like a joke. No one would think I'm serious. Not like with all that junk Deb has. She really thinks her stuff is pretty. But I want this cookie jar because it's... it's...." Justin searched for the correct word.
"Because it's campy," Brian finished for him. "Like feather boas. Ridiculous little dogs with bows on top of their heads. Bette Davis impressions. 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' Emmett Honeycutt. Campy bullshit. I say -- no fucking way!"
Brian hated camp. He hated that it was probably the most identifiable aspect of gay culture. For many people it WAS gay culture -- and that bugged the hell out of Brian. It symbolized their marginalization. And not the outlaw kind. Not the edgy, sexual side of queer life. But the clownish, eunuch side. The thing Brian most despised. A fucking pink flamingo!
So why did he find himself taking out his wallet and buying the fucking thing?
Carrying the fucking thing out to the Vette and putting it in the trunk?
What alien entity had possessed him so thoroughly, so utterly?
"It should be right along here, Brian," said Justin, putting the map away.
Yes, that's what had possessed him. A piece of blond ass.
A few moments later they saw what they had been searching for. Another refurbished farmhouse, like many in the area. With the requisite red barn behind it. And a sign in front that read: "Ilona's Vintage Clothes."
Justin had been pawing through some old clothes at one of the booths at the Antique Market and had asked the woman who ran it if she had any men's clothing.
"No," she replied. "But I know where you can go to find some."
And now here they were.
The red barn may have looked like a barn from the outside, but inside the place was more like a trendy boutique, bright and tastefully decorated. In the front was a large selection of women's vintage clothing, most with designer labels. But in the rear Brian could see racks of men's suits. Shoes. Ties. Coats. And he headed back there like a fashion-guided missile.
There were clothes from all decades, not merely the more recent vintage he had expected to see. The first thing Brian found was a mint condition Burberry trenchcoat that was certainly from the 1950's. Then a pair of leather pants that screamed Jim Morrison, circa 1969. A fawn Ralph Lauren suit from the '80's. A powder blue Pierre Cardin Edwardian jacket from the early '60's. So many fucking amazing things! In a barn in fucking Pennsylvania!
"Where did you get all this stuff?" Brian asked the owner, the Ilona of the sign outside. "Like this Burberry?"
She was a 50-ish woman, tall and very thin, who held herself with the haughty languor of a former model. She was smoking a long, brown European cigarette, and she spoke with a vaguely Eastern European accent.
"That raincoat? England, darling," she answered, blowing out a puff of smoke. "At a house sale in Devon. The man died and left 40 years of wardrobe behind. I bought all of it. Some pieces you see here. Others I consigned to a store in New York City. The rest I sold online. The computer, you know?" She shrugged as if Brian would not have ever heard of such a strange contraption. "Many items had never been worn. I do not think the man got out all that much. But he was very rich and had excellent taste in clothing. He had four Burberry trenches. This is the last one left."
"I'll take it!" Brian yelped. It fit perfectly and Brian knew that Burberry coats were made like iron and never wore out.
"You are too tall, darling," she stated, running her eyes up and down Brian's lean form. "But you are a decent size nevertheless." Ilona rolled another rack from the storage room and began to look through the clothing hanging on it. "This should fit you," she said, taking out a 1970's sharkskin suit. "And this." A punky Vivienne Westwood shirt. "This also." A pair of Versace pants from the early '90's.
Brian immediately stripped off his jeans and sweater and began trying on the clothes in the middle of the barn.
"He is not shy, your friend," Ilona commented to Justin as Brian stood in his 2(x)ist briefs while deciding which pair of pants to put on next. It was an impressive sight.
"No," Justin agreed. "Brian is not at all shy."
"Justin! Could you hand me that red shirt?" Brian called. And Justin laughed as he went over to assist him.
"So, how do you like this place?" Justin could see that Brian was in his element and he was enjoying the private fashion show immensely. Justin had never before seen Brian in full shopping mode and it was quite an educational experience. "Aren't you glad we came here?"
"What do you think of this color?" Brian asked about the Pierre Cardin jacket. "I don't think this blue is right for me. It's too pale. However, it would be perfect for you." Brian removed the jacket and made Justin try it on. "A little big, but my tailor can alter it."
"It suits him," said Ilona in her husky voice. "He looks like a little Mod boy with his blond hair."
Brian also tried on a pair of vintage boots, some belts, and a number of ties. His hoard of treasures kept getting bigger, much to Justin's amusement.
Finally, Brian had sorted out what he wanted. Justin gulped at the size of the bill as Ilona tallied it up. But Brian never even blinked. He took out his Gold Card and handed it over.
"In New York these clothes would go for triple that amount," Brian told Justin as they carried the haul out to the Vette.
"Are we going to be able to fit all those clothes in the trunk?" he asked.
"Only if I toss out that fucking pink flamingo cookie jar," Brian declared, pretending to reach for it. But then he laughed. "We'll put some of the stuff in the trunk and rest behind the seats. There's enough room back there for most of the odds and ends."
"So my cookie jar can stay?" Justin said, batting his eyes appealingly.
"Don't push your luck, Sunshine," Brian admonished. "You aren't that cute!"
"Whatever you say, Brian," Justin grinned. "As long as I can have my pink flamingo."
The Fieldstone Inn, March 2005
On Saturday night Brian, dressed in his vintage sharkskin suit, and Justin, wearing a too-large powder blue Pierre Cardin jacket, ate dinner at a local restaurant that did a passable impersonation of a provincial French auberge. Justin had rabbit for the first time, Brian had duck, and for dessert they shared a huge slice of chocolate gateau. Then they returned to the Fieldstone Inn and spent much more time in the large whirlpool tub than was necessary merely to get clean.
Sunday morning the pair awoke and found a large Easter basket filled with fruit, chocolate, and fresh flowers at the door of their room.
"I completely forgot that it was Easter," said Brian, thinking of Gus.
"That's okay, Brian," Justin replied. "We have presents for everyone when we get back. You can go and see Gus tomorrow and give him the trains. He'll understand."
"I didn't get anything for Michael's kid," Brian said. "I didn't think of it. Typical of me. I bought plenty of shit for myself this weekend."
"No, Brian," said Justin, putting his arms around his lover. "It's not typical of you. You always take care of everyone and that's the truth. We both forgot. So we'll stop at the Antique Market after brunch and find something nice for her. Okay?"
"I guess so," Brian shrugged.
"Come on," Justin prodded. "Let's go to brunch."
The Fieldstone Inn always did a big Sunday Brunch, opening the dining room to non-guests, so the place was packed on Easter. Justin helped himself to eggs, bacon, and pancakes from the large buffet, while Brian took some fruit and a bagel. Mrs. York found them a table in the corner and they ate while they watched a progression of families go through the food line.
"I always liked Easter," said Justin. "I loved the chocolate bunnies. I always bit off the head first and then finished the rest later."
But Brian didn't reply. He poked at his fruit with his fork listlessly.
"We have to leave pretty early tomorrow morning, Brian," Justin reminded him. "My flight for Boston leaves at 2:00."
"I'll get you to the airport in time," said Brian. "Never fear."
"I'm not worried." Justin took a deep breath. "This will be my final term at Dartmouth. Commencement is on June 12. Doesn't seem possible. Four years flew by." He waited for Brian to say something, but there was nothing. "I need to think about what I'm going to do after I come back to Pittsburgh. Brian? Are you listening to me?"
"I'm listening, Sunshine," Brian said. Then he looked up at Justin. "I thought you were going to move into the loft? Or have you changed your mind?"
"No, Brian," Justin said in relief. "I haven't changed my mind. But we never really discussed it, so I wasn't sure."
"If I had changed my mind, you'd know about it." Brian set down his fork. "So what's there to discuss?"
Justin hesitated. To his mind, there were dozens of things for them to discuss. How much of his stuff could Justin bring with him to the loft? What would Justin do now that he was out of school? Find a job? Where? What about his art? What about his parents? What would his father say? Should he introduce them to Brian? What would their reaction be to Justin living with his older boyfriend? That was another thing -- what exactly WAS the nature of their relationship? How did Brian feel about all of this? Was he in love with Justin the way Justin was in love with Brian? That was one thing that Brian had never articulated clearly. Yes, Justin thought there was plenty for them to discuss.
"Come on," said Brian, pushing his plate away. "Let's take a ride."
They drove back to the lookout and stayed for a while watching for the hawk, but they didn't see it. Justin had remembered to bring his camera this time and he took a lot of photos, mainly of Brian standing and staring at the distant mountains. Then Brian took some pictures of Justin, mainly grinning.
After that they went back to the Antique Market and found an Easter gift for Jenny Rebecca -- a homemade quilt with yellow ducks around the edges.
"Too bad we couldn't find one with pink flamingoes," Justin commented wryly.
Brian gave him a quizzical look. "The kid is already being raised by a pair of dykes and you want to make it worse by adding flamingoes?"
"A few flamingoes never hurt anyone, Brian," said Justin.
For their last dinner they went back to the little Italian restaurant in Wiley. Both Brian and Justin flirted with the giggling waitress and she brought them free ice cream for dessert.
"We need another bottle of champagne for tonight," Brian told Mr. York as they reclaimed their room key. "And a wake-up call for 7:00 a.m."
"Certainly, Mr. Kinney. I'll bring the bottle right up," said Mr. York, making a note on his pad. "I hope you've enjoyed your stay with us?"
"Yes," Brian answered. "I think we have."
The champagne was good. So was the fire. And Brian was getting used to the fluffy bed. It was amazing what you could get used to if you only allowed yourself. Even get comfortable with.
Justin had found some old Big Band music on the radio. Probably the local NPR station, Brian thought. Artie Shaw. Glenn Miller. Benny Goodman. A lot of throbbing horns and mournful melodies. Music to dance to, but in a melancholy way. Music made during wartime. Music for a desperate moment that would never come again.
Listening to it made Brian feel nostalgic. He didn't know why. He hadn't lived during the Big Band era but he watched a lot of old movies. There was something about that time that made Brian feel both happy and regretful at the same time. He knew what Justin would say. That it was because it was romantic. That word again. Absurdly romantic.
Justin got out of bed and went over to the hearth to put on another log. He bent over and Brian laughed at how much he was enjoying the view.
"What are you laughing at?" Justin demanded.
"You," said Brian. "The naked servant boy, feeding the fire."
"Who's a servant boy?" Justin challenged.
"If you're going to be my houseboy, then you'll have to get used to it." Brian set down his glass of champagne and also got out of bed.
"I knew there was a reason why you wanted me to move in with you," said Justin. "You want a cheap houseboy!"
"No," said Brian. "Never cheap. You cost me more than you'll ever know." Brian went over and caught Justin in his arms. "Can you dance?"
Justin was surprised. "Sure. We belong to the Arcadian Country Club. All WASPy country club boys take dancing lessons. Their mothers make them so they can escort the daughters of their parents' WASPy country club friends to proms and coming out parties."
"Well," said Brian. "This is a different kind of coming out party. So -- will you?"
Justin's eyes widened. "Will I what?"
"Dance with me?" Brian replied. "We have all this music and a nice space in front of the fireplace. Seems a shame to let it go to waste."
"Oh, we haven't wasted it," Justin smiled, thinking of what they had already done on the rug in front of the fire. "But I'm game."
It felt strange to dance naked. To press his body against Brian's in such a different way. But it also felt good, Justin thought. It felt right. Brian wasn't the world's greatest dancer, but he was good enough. More important was the way they moved together. Smoothly. Naturally. The same way they made love.
Justin closed his eyes and thought about how much this meant to him. To have this perfect moment. This perfect weekend. This perfect Spring Break. And it was only the beginning.
Brian closed his eyes and thought about what he wanted from the rest of his life. He had never planned very far ahead before. He had never wanted to think about the future. He was a man who lived for the moment. But even perfect moments ended. It was the time between those moments that really counted. And what you did with that time while you had it in your grasp.
Brian braced Justin against his powerful body and lifted him off his feet, spinning him around while Justin laughed and laughed. Then he bent him back and kissed him.
They were safe for now. And that was all that mattered.
Pittsburgh, April 2005
"Do you have any questions, Brian?" the doctor asked.
"No," said Brian, trying to keep his voice steady. "No questions."
Whenever he was in his oncologist's office, Brian felt like he was a child again. The stern authority figure whose word was law. The utter loss of control. The gut-clenching fear that he didn't dare show. The knowledge that there was no escape.
No escape. Cancer would be something that would never really leave him. It was a part of his life, like his sexuality. Like his fucked-up family. Like his son. Like....
"Then I'll let you go now," said the doctor. "Please schedule your next appointment at the front desk."
Brian stood up. "Thanks, Doc."
"No problem, Brian," said the doctor, patting his shoulder reassuringly. "Keep your chin up."
"Ah," Brian replied. "The famous chin. Yes, Doc, I'll keep it up. Along with whatever else I can get up."
The doctor laughed. "You're quite a kidder, Brian. Good luck." Then he walked out of the examining room to see another patient, leaving Brian to get dressed.
In four days it would be his 34th birthday. Not bad for a guy who almost didn't make it to 30. Or 31. Or 32. Or 33. No, against all the odds, Brian was still here. For now.
Brian thought about how much he wanted to be here. Maybe he hadn't felt that way in the past, but now he did. He used to consider that the future was something to hate. It meant you were older. Slower. Not as hot. That you were moving inexorably toward your expiration date. And in the clubs and the bars, even in a second-rate burg like the Pitts, once you were past 30 that expiration date was closer with every minute that ticked by.
Tick, tick, tick.
Brian assessed himself in the mirror as he knotted his tie. No matter how much of that French anti-aging cream he used he still didn't look 19.
He'd never look 19 again.
He'd never be 19 again.
But in a few days he'd be 34.
For 34 he thought he looked okay. Better than okay. He was still hot. For 34.
Not that Brian couldn't find guys to fuck. That had never been a problem. His reputation alone was such that he'd always find guys willing to see if the Brian Kinney Legend was true. Or guys who had already tested that legend and wanted more. There always seemed to be a never-ending supply of hot guys.
Always younger. Now.
Brian remembered the time when he had been the hottest young stud in town. Back then he liked older men. Guys who knew something about life. Guys who had experience. Who knew what to do with a dick and who appreciated the enthusiasm of a talented newcomer. And Brian had learned all that he could from each one of them before he moved on.
Then in his twenties Brian liked guys his own age. Guys like himself. Hot and hard and balls to the wall. Willing to try anything. Do anything. Fuck hard and fast and then on to the next. Like subway trains, there was always another guy coming in a few minutes. And then going.
And that was the way Brian liked it.
Until things happened.
Life happened. His son happened. Cancer happened.
Things were changing.
Brian could feel it, inside and outside.
Brian put on his jacket. He was wearing a vintage Yves Saint Laurent suit circa 1976 that he had bought from Ilona, his new crack dealer, when he had driven out to her shop the previous weekend. He also got a pair of Prada shoes that had never been worn and a handmade British linen shirt, as well as some Italian silk ties.
Ilona had taken his measurements then and told him that she would be on the look out for things that would suit him when she traveled to Britain and Europe later that spring. Brian was looking forward to seeing what she brought back. It might even be worth taking a trip abroad himself to see what he might be able to find.
Well, it was a thought. But not too likely right now.
Maybe some other time. Maybe later.
"I need to make an appointment," Brian told the doctor's receptionist. He handed her his paperwork.
"Certainly, Mr. Kinney," she said, checking her computer while Brian took out his Filofax.
She scheduled him and a few moments later he was out the door. It was sunny and in the 50's. Spring was in full cry. Perfect weather for driving the Vette. Perfect weather for so many things.
He thought about a year ago. He had still been suffering from the aftermath of his radiation treatments. Still feeling ill and weak, not to mention impotent. That had been the most difficult thing. That and the fear that he'd pick up a trick and then fail with him. That word would get around quickly: Brian Kinney can't get it up. The thought of losing his precious reputation was almost as bad as the side effects of his treatment.
Brian got into the Vette and lit a cigarette. He needed to steady his nerves.
Last year when he had been diagnosed, shortly after Vic's death, he hadn't told anyone. He felt there was no one to tell. No one to share the news with who wouldn't freak out or pity him or drive him crazy with their smothering care. When all he wanted was someone to understand. To stand back and let him deal with it. Someone who would be there, silently but vigilantly. Someone to count on.
But there had been no one.
Brian had gone through the initial operation and biopsy alone. And the radiation, too. Some days it had been impossible for him even to lift up his head. The loft was an empty, forsaken place during that time. Some nights, when it was the darkest, Brian thought that he would surely die there. Alone.
But people eventually found out, usually by accident. Cynthia and Gardner because of his difficulties at work. Michael by being his usual nosy self. Deb because he finally knew that he had to tell her or she would kill him. And his mother -- from Debbie.
Brian took out his cell and hit a number. Other than his Vangard numbers for work, it was his most-called.
Brian listened as the phone purred away, trying to connect.
It went to voicemail.
"Justin?" Brian said, knowing that he must be in class at this time of the day. "I wanted to let you know so you don't worry. I just finished at the doctor's office. It's official -- I've been cancer-free for a whole year. Hurray for me, right? I have to go back in six months for another check-up, but the doc said that everything looks good. So that's the story I'm sticking with!"
Brian paused, wanting to say more, but not wanting to say it to a machine. "I... I'll talk to you tonight, Justin. Later."
Yes, he thought. Later.
* FIN *
©Gaedhal, June 2005.
Posted October 29, 2005.