TANGLED UP IN BLUE

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter 12 of the "Queer Realities" series.

Go back to "Queer Theories" for the very beginning of this saga.

The narrator is Ben Bruckner, and features Justin Taylor, Tim Reilly, Michael Novotny, Brian Kinney.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin asks Ben Bruckner for help for Brian. Pittsburgh, January 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy,

Office hours on Mondays this early in Spring Semester are usually pretty dead. The students haven't had time to panic about grades or missing assignments, and they are also still punchy from the weekend. Since I don't have a lot of visitors, Monday morning is a good chance to catch up on my paperwork. Clear my e-mail messages. Do some grading. Make a few notes for my new article....

Unless....

"Excuse me? Ben?"

I look up and am surprised to see Tim Reilly standing at my door.

"Tim! Please, come in!" I stand up and offer him my hand. I haven't spoken to Tim since just before Michael and I broke up. I used to see him and Vic at least a couple of times a week over at Debbie's house or at the diner.

It's funny how when a relationship fails you don't just lose the person you love, you lose an entire group of people you have come to care about. Michael and I were together for over a year, and we only split in November, after the fiasco over Ron, but it seems like we've been apart much longer. Seeing Tim reminds me of how lonely I've been feeling lately. I don't have any relatives in Pittsburgh and Michael's family and friends had been my extended family for so long that I'd come to take them as a given. I have to get up too early in the morning to get too involved in the bar scene anymore, and the guys I meet at the gym bore the hell out of me. Okay, I confess that I just haven't had the energy recently to seek out a whole new group of friends, let alone a new relationship. Maybe it's mental or maybe it's physical, but I'm just too tired to do it. So damn tired of it all.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you, Ben," says Tim, shaking my hand warmly. He looks older than the last time I saw him, the silver invading his golden hair, the lines around his eyes deeper and sadder. He must have been a beautiful man in his prime, but now he has that shadowy look I recognize in others of my kind. The Poz Guys. But especially in the older guys who have survived -- so far. The ones hanging on. Like Tim. Like Vic. It reminds me that I'm one of them. That I'll be a shadow of myself sooner than I want to admit. That I'll be doing what they are doing -- hanging on for as long as I can.

And it looks more and more like I'll be doing that hanging on alone.

"You're not disturbing me at all. It's open office hours. You can see that I'm extremely open." I pull a chair up next to my desk. "Have a seat, Tim."

"Thanks, Ben." Tim sits and glances around my office. It isn't fancy, but it's serviceable. There's room enough for my desk and books and computer. And I don't have to share it with another professor. That's always a plus. Even the TA for my film class, Alan Wray, has a desk over in the main TA office, so he isn't breathing down my neck all day long, thank God.

"So, Tim," I say. I have to wonder why he's here. "I assume this isn't a social call."

"No, it isn't, Ben. It's something else." Tim hesitates. "I'm not exactly certain how to approach you about this, so I suppose it's best to be direct."

I hold up my hand. "If this is about me and Michael, Tim, I appreciate the attempt, but I don't think that...."

"No, Ben, this isn't about Michael," he replies. "Not at all. But it is about someone else you know. I'm here to ask for some help for this person."

I frown. "Is it Vic? Is he having problems with his treatment?"

"No, it isn't Vic." Tim's hands are restless in his lap. "It's... someone else...." Suddenly Tim stands up and goes to the door. Like he's leaving. But he goes to the door and motions to someone. Justin Taylor stands in the doorway. "Justin, I think you should come in now. You're the one Ben really needs to speak with."

Justin walks into the office and greets me. He smiles politely, but his face is pale and worried. I pull up another chair for him and shut the door for privacy.

"So," I begin. "Are you two going to explain what's going on here?" They glance at each other. Then it dawns on me. The connecting thread between these two men -- and me. Brian. It's always Brian. "This is about Brian, right?"

Justin nods. "You probably don't know this, Ben, but Brian was in rehab out in California."

I didn't know that, but it doesn't surprise me. Brian has been walking on the edge for a long time. I imagine that Ron's death was just enough of a push to send him over that edge. Poor Justin. I feel sorry for him. This is a hell of a thing for a kid his age to be dealing with. "How is he doing in rehab?"

Justin licks his lips. "Not too good, Ben. Not good at all." Justin looks me in the eye. "He ran out last week, to tell you the truth. And this is the second time in a month that he's skipped out on a rehab program. He's in big trouble with his studio and he may even be in trouble with the police."

That surprises me. "The police? How are the police involved?"

Justin sighs. "When we were out in Los Angeles Brian totaled his Jeep. It was right after Ron's memorial service. He was drunk and high, too. The cops made a deal with the head of Brian's studio not to press charges if he would get some help."

"And he's not getting that help? Obviously not, if he left his treatment program." Now it's my turn to sigh. "That's tough, Justin, but what does that have to do with me?"

Tim clears his throat. "Justin came to see me this morning, Ben, because he knew that I'd worked with kids who had been addicted." He looks over at Justin. "But that was a long time ago. I haven't done that kind of work in more than a decade. I'm out of touch with what's going on in the area. However, I remembered that you and I had a long conversation a while ago about a friend of yours who is. A doctor who runs a rehab clinic somewhere in Upstate New York."

"Julius Gorowitz." I say. "I knew him when I was at Yale. He was working in a residency program in New Haven. Now he's the director of Springhurst. It's a place on Lake Chautauqua, south of Buffalo."

"And they do drug and alcohol rehab there?" asks Justin, anxiously.

"Yes, Justin. I think they handle all sorts of addictions."

"Do you think you could get Brian into this program?" Justin blurts. "Like, right away? Before they make him go back to Haven of Hope? Because I don't want him to go back to that place, Ben. It was killing him! He's worse now than when he went in!"

"Hold it, Justin!" I exclaim, putting on the brakes. "I haven't talked to Julius Gorowitz in over a year. I don't know if I can just call him up and tell him that we've got a patient for him, ASAP! It doesn't work that way!"

"Why not?" Justin pleads. He stands up and starts pacing back and forth in my office, but there's not really enough room to pace, so he keeps bumping into Tim's chair. "Why the fuck not? Brian needs help and your friend is a doctor! And Brian -- he's your friend, too! You can help him! Please, Ben? I'm fucking begging you here!"

"Justin, please sit down and take a deep breath. Everything is going to be all right." I tell Justin that, but the look on his face says that he doesn't believe it will be.

Justin sinks back into his chair and runs his fingers through his shaggy blond hair. "I'm sorry, Ben, but I'm freaking out. I... I have to do something. You have no fucking idea what it's been like since Brian showed up in Pittsburgh on Friday night." Justin swallows. "Emmett and... and Michael saw him at Babylon and he was stoned out of his mind. They called me and I went right over to the club to get him. But Brian was incoherent. I couldn't even talk to him! Emmett said that Brian was in a... a K-hole -- like when you're frozen? Have you ever heard of that?"

"Yes," I nod. "I've heard of it. It's a frightening phenomenon."

"No, shit," Justin replies quietly. "Brian's okay now, physically, and doesn't seem to be suffering any after effects, but he's very depressed. He had a horrible time out in the rehab place in California. I have enough of a problem with 'The Program' that Haven of Hope was trying to shove down Brian's throat, but even more crummy is the attitude that was rampant in that place, Ben. They were a bunch of fucking homophobes and they made Brian feel like shit because he's gay! For loving me! They told him that his being gay was just his way of rebelling against society and that once he overcame his need for attention and started 'thinking straight' that he wouldn't need to 'choose' to be gay any longer. You know that is the biggest load of crap ever, Ben! Not only is it bullshit psychology, but it's dangerous to Brian's mental state. Those people badgered him and made him feel guilty for being what he IS! That's NOT helping someone! That's not getting them to deal with their... their addiction. That's just pure homophobic hate!"

"That's a very serious charge, Justin," I say, glancing over at Tim Reilly. He's obviously heard all of this from Justin already. His face looks grim.

"And that isn't all, Ben," Justin continues. "They... they told Brian to break it off with me. And with most of his friends, too. Even with his son, Gus. And with Michael. With everyone who is what THEY call an 'enabler.'"

That's a hard one to swallow. I understand that many drug treatment programs take a hard line on so-called enablers, but I've never thought of Justin as being an enabler. Justin is NOT Brian's main problem. And neither are his friends or his son. No, not at all. BRIAN is Brian's main problem.

Justin looks at me earnestly. "I know that Brian acts like he's this big loner and all self-contained and he doesn't need anyone and all that bullshit, but that's exactly what it is, Ben -- bullshit. Brian used to tell me 'YOU'RE all that you need' and pretend that he never wanted to be part of any group or any... any couple. But he doesn't believe that anymore. Brian DOES need people! And especially NOW he needs his friends. He needs ME. Cutting himself off from all the people he loves and trusts is the worst idea I've ever heard of in my life! He'd be in despair if he followed that advice. I..." Justin pauses. "I'd be afraid for him if he did that. Which is why I think that leaving Haven of Hope was a good idea. If that's their philosophy of the only way for people to overcome their addictions, then it's fucked! Maybe it works for some people, but not for Brian!"

I listen to what Justin has to say and I'm impressed with his insight into his partner. When I was living with Michael he used to talk a lot about Brian and his special understanding of Brian, ad nauseam. But I never felt that Michael truly understood what Brian was about, especially not the adult Brian. Michael idealizes Brian. He sees Brian as a larger-than-life character, a superhero, the one who saved Michael from all the bullies and always came to his rescue when he was in trouble. The man who all the other men wanted to be AND wanted to fuck. But I think that Justin sees the real Brian. The flawed Brian. The Brian who is human and vulnerable and damaged and incredibly demanding. That's a hard thing for a young man Justin's age. He's what -- 20? But Justin is not your usual 20 year old. Which is a good thing, because even a grown man like Ron couldn't handle Brian. But then Ron had his own demons that he was fighting, even aside from dealing with someone as difficult as Brian.

"All right, Justin," I say. "Let me give Julius Gorowitz a call."

Justin's face lights up and he looks at Tim with new hope. "Ben! Thank you so much!"

"I can't promise you anything, Justin," I warn him. "The best I can do is to talk to Julius and get his opinion on the situation. If he can't take Brian at Springhurst, then he may have some alternative that he can suggest."

Justin suddenly puts his head down and presses his palms against his eyes. I know that he's trying not to cry, but I don't know if it's in frustration or relief. Perhaps it's a little of both.

"I have to tell you, Ben," Justin says after a few minutes. "This weekend has been a nightmare. First, Brian shows up in Pittsburgh all fucked up. He's in bad shape, mentally and physically. I've been spending all my time listening to what he's been through and trying to comfort him. Trying to understand what it all means! And yesterday was fucking horrible! A man from Brian's studio called the loft, making all sorts of threats. Then my mom came over and... and she still looks at Brian like he's some kind of anti-Christ who ruined my life. Then we went to Lindsay and Mel's house to see Gus. And Gus was being like most little kids -- a pain in the ass!"

Justin has to stop and take a deep breath before he can continue. Tim reaches over and pats Justin's arm before he goes on. "Gus wouldn't go to Brian. Even though he's been asking for his Daddy non-stop, he acted like he didn't remember Brian. Or like he was afraid of him. It's been a few months since Gus has seen Brian and... little kids forget. He ran over to me and wouldn't even look at Brian. And Brian was devastated. One of the things they kept telling him in that rehab center was that he should get out of his son's life until he's 'cured' or whatever the fuck! It was like Gus was reiterating that idea. I could see that even Melanie felt sorry for Brian. And I felt completely helpless to do anything for him."

"I'm sure that Brian understands about small children," I say. "They don't always do what they should do or what you want them to do."

"I know," Justin replies. "And Brian does understand that -- on an intellectual level. But on a gut level he was crushed by Gus' rejection. We left the girls' place right after that and went to my mom's for dinner. I've never seen Brian so... so subdued. It was almost as if he was physically numb. Even Molly asked him if he was sick. Molly is like me -- she always speaks her mind! But Brian said he was just tired. Before we left there my mom took me aside and told me that Brian didn't look good to her, and I had to agree. I afraid he's going to have a nervous breakdown or something if I don't get him somewhere that he can actually get some help!"

"That's concerning me, too, Ben," added Tim. "Brian has always been very good at suppressing his emotions. He's done it for so many years that I think now, when he can't seem to suppress what he's feeling anymore, the rush of all that emotion at one time is beginning to overwhelm him."

"Maybe he needs to be on some kind of anti-depressant?" I suggest.

"No!" Justin cries vehemently. "No drugs! That quack in California put him on Xanax and it just started up another fucking thing for him to be addicted to!"

"Justin, whatever treatment program Brian goes into, you're going to have to let the doctor make those decisions," I tell him firmly. "If Dr. Gorowitz agrees to treat Brian and puts him on medication, you can't be urging Brian not to take it."

Justin crosses his arm in front of him. "Only if I know that I can trust this doctor and I'm sure he isn't some homophobe like the jerks at Haven of Hope! Or that he isn't a fucking pill-pusher like Dr. Hall! He's the one who prescribed all that crap for Brian, and then gave Ron all the drugs that... that killed him."

"I share your concern, Justin," I assure him. "Julius Gorowitz is no homophobe. I'm his friend and I know that for certain. Springhurst treats all kinds of people, but it specializes in addiction therapy for the gay community. But whatever happens, we have to take this one step at a time."

Justin nods. "I know, Ben. It's just that... that I'm scared shitless. Last night, after we left my mother's condo, Brian said 'Why don't we go to Woody's?' I thought it might cheer him up. Sunday evening is usually pretty quiet over there. So we sat at the bar and had a couple of Cokes -- no liquor -- and talked about things. And everything seemed to be okay. Except then Brian started getting nervous. He was looking around and acting jumpy. All of a sudden he got up and said that he had to go to the men's room. And I saw this guy at the other end of the bar cruising Brian. There's no mistaking THAT look. He was kind of a creepy-looking guy, too, but Brian likes all kinds, you know what I mean?" Justin laughs bitterly. "So Brian went into the toilet -- and, sure enough, the creepy guy went in after him." Justin makes a face and sighs.

"Did you follow him and stop him?" I ask. I know that Brian and Justin used to have some kind of arrangement about tricking. I'm not certain of the details, but I can't imagine that fucking some guy in the john while your partner sits at the bar, waiting, was part of their agreement.

"I was really pissed, and I thought about going home," Justin admits. "Just getting into the Jeep and leaving him there at Woody's." Justin pauses. "But I couldn't do it. Not when he's in trouble. When he does shit like that it's really all about Brian's goddamn pain management! It's meaningless! Tricking is meaningless to Brian!" His voice gets sad. "It always has been. And probably always will be."

I glance over at Tim Reilly, who looks anguished. Because I know that he is one of those 'meaningless' guys that Brian had sex with once upon a time. And so was I. For me it truly was a passing thing. I didn't go to the White Party in Miami expecting any kind of profound experience or meaningful relationship. I was there to have fun and get laid. And I did. But it was different for Tim Reilly. I don't know the full story, but I know that his long-ago relationship with Brian was something that meant much more to Tim than it did to Brian. That it still means a lot to Tim, even after all these years. And I can't help but think about Ron, too.

"So, I got up and marched into the bathroom," Justin goes on. "I was ready to kick the creep's ass and ream Brian out! But... when I went in there, Brian was alone. He was just standing at the sink, gazing at himself in the mirror. He and the creepy guy couldn't have had time to do anything. Not even Brian can fuck a guy in less than 5 minutes, or even get his dick sucked, especially when he wasn't aroused to begin with. And he wasn't. I'd been with him all evening and I know when Brian is hard and when he isn't! But it was just... weird. It was almost like he was... was stoned. So I asked him if he was high and he said, 'What do you think, Sunshine?'"

Tim gives me a pointed look and then glances sideways at Justin.

"Well," I ask Justin. "Was he high?"

"I... I don't know anymore, Ben," Justin answers in a low voice. "I just don't know."

But he knows. Justin MUST know! After all, he's here in my office, desperate to get his partner into rehab!

Tim coughs and catches my eye again.

Justin sets that square jaw and looks at me directly. "That's why you have to call that friend of yours, Ben. The sooner the better."

Justin and Tim leave and it's almost time for a departmental committee meeting that I can't duck out of. But before I head for the meeting, I place a call to Dr. Julius Gorowitz at Springhurst in New York. He's actually very interested in what I have to say. I end up being 10 minutes late for that committee meeting.

***

A couple of hours later I'm buzzed into Brian's building and take the elevator up to his loft.

For as long as I've known Brian, I have actually only been to the loft a few times. When we tricked at the White Party it was out of town and most of my other interactions with Brian since then were in a group setting or through Ron or Michael -- and each of those men liked to keep Brian to himself.

Not that I believe Michael ever thought there was any real connection between me and Brian. There was a sexual attraction for sure, but that's beside the point because I was committed to making it work with Michael. Or I thought I was. And Michael and I would still be together if Ron hadn't forced me into confessing our affair. But that's all in the past. I'm moving on with my life and I'm sure that Michael is as well. We haven't even laid eyes on one another since that rotten day in November on Brian's boat in Los Angeles, and I don't expect that we'll be seeing each other any time soon.

Which is why my mouth drops open when Michael appears at the door of the loft.

"M... Michael," I stammer. "I didn't expect to see you here."

"Why not?" he says defensively. "I'm Brian's best friend." Michael stands back. "Come on in."

Michael's right. Why should I be surprised that he's here? Brian is going through a rough time and Michael IS his best friend -- as he was constantly reminding me when we were together. I'm told that Michael's fixation with Brian was one of the major causes of the breakdown of his relationship with David Cameron, but I always tried to keep their friendship in perspective. I never saw Brian as a threat to us at all. To me it was so obvious that he didn't view Michael as anything more than a friend and I always tried to keep that fact in mind whenever Michael seemed to be mooning over Brian.

And in the end it was ME who fucked up. Me who destroyed our relationship. Not Michael. Not Brian. Me who betrayed Michael for a beyond meaningless fuck with Ron. Me who had to tell Michael what had happened. Me who had to watch his face crumble. And me who had to walk away.

Brian is sitting on his stark white Italian sofa, with Justin next to him and Tim Reilly in a nearby chair. I always wonder how anyone can live in a room of white, untouchable furniture. It seems symbolic of a sterile, untouchable state of mind. Or perhaps a sterile, untouchable life.

But Justin lives here, too, and he's anything but sterile. Anything but untouchable. I see his things everywhere -- his clothes, his books, his drawings -- and wonder about how subtly but inexorably this young man has taken over and transformed Brian's life. And that can only be a good thing. I try to imagine how Brian would be surviving right now without Justin's presence. It's very difficult to imagine.

Justin stands up and comes over. His face is drawn, but he smiles at me. "Ben! We were just talking about you. And your friend, Dr. Gorowitz. Tim and I were telling Brian all about his rehab center -- Springhurst."

"Yeah," adds Michael. "We looked it up on the internet. There's a lot of stuff on... on those kinds of places." Michael glances at his friend. His face also shows his worry. Those lines that gather on his forehead just over his nose. The way his eyebrows draw up. And I realize just how much I've missed looking at this man over the last few months. "Springhurst seems like a very fine facility."

"But it's in New York," says Brian, his tone flat. His voice is very quiet and his manner is extremely muffled. I'm used to the in-your-face Brian Kinney. The self-confidant stud with the cocky attitude and the glamorous wardrobe. It's unsettling to see this defeated-looking man in a faded pair of jeans, an old tee shirt, and bare feet, slouched on the couch. "That's too fucking far away."

"It isn't all that far away, Brian," Tim puts in. "It's about a three hour drive. That isn't too bad."

Justin escorts me over to another white chair. Then he sits back down next to Brian and Michael sits on his other side. They're like bookends, the two of them, always propping up this man. Fighting with each other like enemies, sometimes, and other times cooperating like brothers, but always bound together in their concern for Brian.

"Did you talk to your friend?" Justin leans towards me. "What did he say?"

I nod. "Julius was very interested to hear from me. And he said that he has a place for Brian at Springhurst."

Tim lets out a sigh of relief, but both Justin and Michael still look worried. And Brian is just blank.

"That's great!" Justin nods. "Isn't it?" He glances at Michael for reassurance.

"The only thing is," I add. "Is that Julius Gorowitz wants Brian there immediately. Tomorrow afternoon. He said that he'll have the paperwork ready to be filled out when you get there and that Brian's room will be waiting for him."

Brian blinks. Panic races across his face. "No," he says. "I don't want to go yet. Not tomorrow."

"That's... so soon," Justin murmurs. He grabs Brian's hand and clings to it. "Maybe the end of the week? Or next week? What about that, Ben?"

"Justin," I say firmly. "This isn't a vacation we are talking about. This is a treatment program. I've known Julius Gorowitz for years and he does not fool around. But he's a good man. And a good physician and psychiatrist. I called him after you and Tim left my office this morning and again this afternoon when he told me that he would he happy to admit Brian. He has agreed to take Brian only because Julius thinks he can help him. But that means that Brian has to show that he's serious, too." I look at Brian directly. "YOU have to show that you aren't doing this just to get out of some kind of trouble with your studio. Or because you want to get your boyfriend off your back about your drug usage."

That's when I see a spark of the old Kinney fire. "Justin is NOT on my back about anything, Ben!" he snaps. "And I'm not doing this just to shut up Howie Sheldon and all the Hollywood sharks. I need to do this for... for me."

"Good," I return. I take out a sheet of paper with the directions to Springhurst on them. "Julius says that it shouldn't be hard to find. It's just over the New York State line. I'm sure that you can print out a map from the internet."

Justin and Michael are looking at each other in dismay. "But... tomorrow?" Michael finally says.

Suddenly Brian stands up. "Is the one suitcase rule still in effect?"

I frown. "Julius didn't say anything about suitcases. All he said was to be there. Tomorrow."

"I suppose I'll find out all the Rules when I get there," Brian continues. "I better pack." Then he stalks up into the bedroom. Justin follows right behind.

Tim stands up and shakes my hand. "Thank you, Ben. I mean that. I didn't know how to help Justin. That's why I suggested you."

"All I did was make the connection," I reply. "I was going to volunteer to drive Brian and Justin to Springhurst tomorrow. I don't have any classes on Tuesday. That way I can make the introductions with Julius Gorowitz and then Justin won't have to drive back by himself."

"I can do that!" Michael interrupts, an edge of anger in his voice. "I can drive the Jeep up there and come back with Justin! I'm the most logical person to do it! After all, I AM Brian's best friend!"

Michael and I stare at each other for a long, awkward moment before Tim Reilly breaks in. "Why don't you both go?" he suggests in a conciliatory tone. "Michael can drive the Jeep and you can go and make the necessary introductions, Ben. That will also give Brian and Justin a little more time together as you drive them up."

Michael shrugs. "It's okay with me. If it's okay with you?" Michael looks at me in a manner that makes me feel guilty as hell. "I mean, if you don't mind riding in the Jeep with me all that way and back."

"Fine. It's all settled then," I answer, getting on my coat to go. "And, no, Michael. I don't mind riding with you. I would never mind riding with you -- as long as you don't mind riding with me. This isn't about us, Michael. It's about helping a friend."

Michael walks me to the door slowly. "You're right, Ben. This is about Brian, not us. And thanks for everything."

Michael stares at me so sadly. Those huge dark eyes can look hurt in a million different ways. And I think about the way I really hurt him. Hurt us both so badly. Which was all it took to ruin us.

"I'll see you tomorrow morning. About 9:00?"

Michael nods. "We'll be ready to go."

He closes the heavy metal door of the loft behind me. That clang of the metal sounds so final, like the tolling of a bell. It rings in my ears all the way out of the building and into the late January snow.

Continue on to "Springhurst".

©Gaedhal, April 2004.

Posted April 19, 2004.