The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".
Boston, November 2005
Billy "Red" Duggan had reserved an entire room in the sushi restaurant for the Duggan-Rooney rehearsal dinner. Denny was the first of his kids to get married and, even if it was happening a little earlier than expected, he has determined to do it up right. The Sushi House wasn't exactly his cup of tea, but the kids liked it -- and what made his kids happy was what mattered to Red and his wife, Marge.
"You must be kidding with this stuff!" Red moaned as the petite Japanese waitress placed a black lacquered plate in front of him. Some small rolls wrapped in something wet and green sat in the middle of the plate like flotsam without the jetsam.
"I ordered that especially for you, Pop!" Denny cracked. "I know how much you like eel!"
"Eel?" Red choked. "Can't I get a burger in this joint? Or a pork chop?"
"That's not really eel, Bill," Brian reassured him. At Justin's suggestion, Denny had seated his former roommate's boyfriend next to his father, hoping that Brian might guide the old man through the unfamiliar meal. And if Red ate the food, then the rest of the older, more conservative members of the party -- his mother, his Aunt Helen, his Uncles Charlie and Stu and their wives, and Carole's parents, Ed and Bernadette Rooney -- would follow him into the strange world of Japanese cuisine. "Denny is pulling your leg."
"Oh, yeah?" said Red. "Smartass little punk! Well, what is it?"
"This is a Shrimp Tempura Roll." Brian pointed with his chopstick. "And this is a Philadelphia Roll -- a little smoked salmon and cream cheese. That one is a California Roll -- crabmeat and avocado. That one on the end has lobster in it and this one has teriyaki beef. It's all cooked, Bill. I guarantee you. Marge and the others have the same thing." Brian indicated Red's wife and the aunts and uncles.
"Oh," said Red, picking up his fork. There was no way he was going to eat with a couple of wooden sticks! "Maybe I'll try that smoked salmon thing."
Denny watched as his father put the piece in his mouth and chewed tentatively. "It's not bad," he pronounced, grudgingly. And, sure enough, Marge and the others followed suit.
"I told you," Brian smirked. "Now this..." he picked up a piece of sashimi from his own plate with his chopsticks. "THIS is eel!" Brian popped it into his mouth. "Sure you don't want a taste?"
"No goddamn way!" Red laughed. "I'm not putting something like THAT in my mouth!"
"That's what separates the men from the boys," Brian informed his host. He picked up another piece of sashimi and sucked it between his lips. "Among other things."
"I don't want to hear about your sex life, Brian!" Red guffawed. "And I need a beer over here! That saki'll murder me! It goes down like a nun's knickers!"
"Billy! Please keep your voice down," murmured his wife, Marge, glancing at her two brothers and their wives and the Rooneys.
"Sorry, honey," he said, chastened. Marge was one of the few people who could actually rein in the boisterous Red Duggan.
"Pop's having a pretty good time," Denny's younger sister, Kathleen, a junior at Boston College, told Justin. They were sitting at the other end of the long table. "I think he gets a kick out of Brian."
"A lot of guys get a kick out of Brian," Justin laughed. "So why not your dad?"
"Brian told me that Red reminds him of the men his father used to hang out with when he was a kid," said Denny's Uncle Pat. "On some bowling team his old man belonged to."
"From what I hear," Justin replied. "Brian and his dad didn't get along too well. But it might have been different when he was younger."
"Sounds like me and my father," said Pat's partner, Derrick. He speared a piece of shrimp tempura off his plate and dipped it into some sauce. "After I came out to him and started living with Pat, he didn't speak to me for six years."
"That's a long time," said Justin, thinking about his own father. "What made him change his mind?"
"He had a heart attack," said Derrick. "Ma brought in the priest to give him the Sacraments in the Intensive Care Unit. He really thought he was going to die right then. So he asked to see me one last time. Then he got better, but he was too stubborn to take it all back! Typical, huh?"
"Your father always was a hard-headed bastard -- just like you!" said Pat, gazing at his partner fondly.
Justin noted the loving looks that passed between the two men. They'd been together for twenty years and yet they joked and laughed like a couple of teenagers. That's the way it should be, Justin thought. Not like my parents, who act like their marriage is a business arrangement rather than a love affair.
Then Justin looked at Denny and Carole. Tomorrow they were getting married. And soon they'd have a baby. Goofy, carefree Denny would be someone's father. It didn't seem possible. Justin looked around the table at the sea of redheaded Duggans. Then he looked at Carole, sitting shyly next to her future husband. Her hair was as black as Denny's was red, her skin pale white, and her eyes dark blue and trusting. She didn't look like anyone's mother, either, but soon she'd have a tiny baby in her arms.
That's the way life happened, thought Justin. It sneaks up on you. You're a kid, standing there, wondering what the fuck it's all about, and then -- wham! -- you've got eight kids, like the Duggans. And you're watching your oldest walk down the aisle.
But what if you're a queer?
Justin knew that Lindsay and Mel were married, even if their wedding wasn't recognized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And they had a family -- Gus and J. R. -- with a little help from Brian and Michael. And Michael and Ben had been married up in Toronto and had adopted Hunter. Denny's Uncle Pat and Derrick weren't married and didn't have kids, but they were still a real couple. A real family, surrounded by friends and relatives who loved and accepted them.
Justin gazed down the long table at Brian, laughing with Mr. Duggan. He was beautiful, his perfect profile like something out of a Renaissance painting.
His lover. His partner. It gave him a thrill to think about it.
Maybe they weren't married. They probably never would be, especially given Brian's intense aversion to the very thought of such a breeder ritual. But they were together. Fuck what Craig Taylor felt about it! And fuck what the powers-that-be in Pittsburgh might feel about it! Or all of the right-wing wackos and haters who would tell them they were going to hell!
"I want to propose a toast!" Justin found himself on his feet, holding his cup of saki in his hand.
All eyes turned to stare at Justin. Then they lifted up their glasses of beer or cups of saki.
"To Denny and Carole!" said Justin, well aware of his role as Best Man. "May everyone at this table be as happy as they are tonight!"
"Here, here," said Uncle Pat, bolting down his saki. "Sláinte!"
"Sláinte!" they all replied. And then they drank.
Carole blushed as Denny leaned over and kissed her.
Justin glanced at Brian, sitting pensively at the end of the table.
His face was solemn, but when he saw Justin's blue eyes, he smiled and lifted his glass a second time.
Boston, November 2005
At the last minute, Brian decided not to wear his midnight blue Armani tux to the wedding.
"But I thought that's the only reason you agreed to come!" said Justin as Brian made the final adjustments on Justin's black bowtie. They were standing in their room in the Wellington-Bradford Guesthouse in front of a full-length mirror placed there for their convenience by Nathaniel Wellington-Bradford. Or was it Preston? Brian couldn't tell the two guys apart. That's what happened to couples who lived together too fucking long -- they began to look alike! And Nathaniel and Preston looked enough alike to be brothers.
"Everyone else, except the wedding party, will be wearing suits," Brian replied. "The only thing worse than being under-dressed, is being over-dressed. I don't want to look like an arrogant dick by sashaying into the church and upstaging the bride and groom." Brian smoothed Justin's tie and tweaked it into place. "Even though it would be quite easy."
"It's a curse to be so beautiful and stylish, isn't it?" Justin smirked.
"It is. But I've survived somehow." Brian slipped on the jacket of the dark gray Perry Ellis suit he'd brought as an alternative and scrutinized himself in the mirror. "Perfect. As usual."
"As usual!" Justin grinned. "I'd fuck you."
"You better." Brian looked up at the cuckoo clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost 1:30 and wedding was scheduled for to begin at 2:00. "We better get cracking. You have a job to do, Best Man!"
"I know!" said Justin. "Can you believe it?"
"Do you have the rings?" Brian asked before they went out the door.
"Right here." Justin opened his tux jacket and touched the inner pocket.
"I think we're all set."
The two men walked down to the lot behind the house where Justin's Jeep was parked. The November sky had been threatening rain all day, but had so far held off.
"I'm starting to get nervous," said Justin as he climbed into the driver's seat and turned over the engine.
"You'll do fine," said Brian, getting in the other side and slamming the door. "After all, it isn't you getting married!"
"I know," said Justin, trying to keep any regret out of his voice.
But Brian didn't reply. He only looked out the window as they drove to the church in Southie.
Because it was somewhat of a hurry-up affair, Denny and Carole's wedding was held on a Wednesday afternoon instead of the more-desired Saturday. And rather than the hoard of attendants that had been originally planned, there were only Carole's sister, Meg, as Matron of Honor, her little niece, Melissa, as Flower Girl, Justin as the Best Man, and two of Denny's brothers, the 16 year old twins, Benjie and Mickey, as Ushers. But the altar was still decorated with baskets of fresh flowers, the church was full of relatives, and Carole looked beautiful and glowing, if just a little bit pinched, in her trailing white lace dress.
Out of habit, Brian sat near the back. That's where Jack, his Old Man, had always sat on the rare occasions that he came to Mass. He always said that it was so he could make a quick getaway if the need arose. That was in sharp contrast with Joanie, who sat as close to the front as she could get and who was always the first to jump up and bolt for the rail when the time came for Communion.
Brian was always surprised at how easily all the gestures and responses came back to him when he was in church. He'd taken Joan to Mass a few times after Jack died, but then begged off when he saw who his mother's new pastor was -- an old trick from the Apollo Baths. That had been a fucking nightmare! It was bad enough to run into a former fuck at the diner or on the street, but to see one in church -- shit!
The last wedding he'd been to had been Michael and Ben's up in Toronto. At that one he'd actually played the role Justin was now playing for Denny -- Best Man. Brian never thought he'd stoop to gracing another wedding with his presence -- he'd been forced to attend his sister Claire's disastrous nuptials and managed to avoid Lindsay and Mel's by winning tickets to the White Party in South Beach -- but he'd made the exception for Mikey and the Professor. But what the hell? If a couple of dickless fags wanted to act like breeders that was their own business. And if it made Mikey happy...
And Michael did seem happy. That was the peculiar thing. Happy with his house on Stepford Terrace. Happy with his partner and his adopted son and his boring, bourgeois, faux-straight lifestyle. That, after all Brian had tried to teach him about being a good, strong, independent queer! What a fucking disappointment!
And then there was Justin.
It was difficult to miss Justin's growing excitement as all the wedding hype reached a fever pitch. The meeting with the insane woman who was the wedding planner. The rehearsal with the old priest. The rehearsal dinner. The surprise bachelor party that Pat and his partner Derrick threw for Denny at the Quiet Man Pub afterwards. And now the main event. The fucking wedding.
Everything. The whole fucking catastrophe!
And yesterday morning Justin had been looking at all the photos of the Wellington-Bradfords at their own wedding -- pictures which were prominently placed all over the fucking guesthouse. Justin asking one of them (Nathaniel? Preston? Who the fuck could tell them apart?) about the details -- which the guy was only too happy to provide. Drinking it all in.
It had been hard to avoid the look on Justin's face while they were getting dressed. Justin's smiling at his reflection in the mirror. Perhaps picturing himself in Denny's place.
But Brian wasn't Carole. He'd look ridiculous in white lace. And he wasn't a fucking straight person. He wasn't dickless -- at least not yet.
And he wasn't planning to be dickless any time in the future.
Which meant that one day he and Justin might go head-to-head over this stupid issue.
Marriage. A fucking wedding.
He'd already lost one ball, he wasn't about to sacrifice the other.
Not even for Justin.
No matter how much he loved...
That was the first fucking step. That was how you got yourself roped in.
Because you loved someone.
But he did love Justin. He couldn't deny it. Maybe he didn't even want to deny it.
But marriage... that was where he drew the line. That was something he couldn't do. Wouldn't do!
And if that's what Justin wanted. If that's what Justin had to have in order to be happy...
Well, they'd cross that bridge when they came to it. And if Justin walked over it, he'd have to leave Brian behind.
Because Brian couldn't cross that fucking river.
Brian's favorite part of any wedding ceremony was "If anyone knows a reason why these two people should not be joined together, let him speak now or forever hold his peace." Instinctively, Brian would look around, hoping that someone would barrel down the aisle and disrupt the proceedings. But, of course, no one ever did. No one ever stopped the wedding.
And Justin played his part perfectly, producing the two rings from his pocket at the right moment and placing them in Denny's palm. Then he stepped back and watched as Denny and Carole exchanged them. His face was radiant, that fucking 'Sunshine' smile lighting up the dark and stuffy old church.
Brian could hear a woman weeping up front. Probably one of the mothers. Or both of the mothers. Fucking women. Fucking crying. Fucking tears of happiness. They must have cried like that at Jack and Joanie's wedding. If only they had known how apt their tears would be.
Then it was all over. The couple kissed and everyone stood and applauded. They walked back up the aisle, smiling, their entire lives ahead of them, as someone up in the choir loft played the recessional. As Justin followed, his arm looped through that of Carole's sister, the Matron of Honor, he looked over at Brian and winked.
Brian shook his head. He felt a chill go through him. The old church was too damp, too full of the memories of weddings past. He could hardly wait to get out and breathe some fresh air.
But outside it had just begun to rain.
Boston, November 2005
"More bubbly, Sunshine?"
Brian tipped the bottle over the glass, sloshing champagne all over the tablecloth.
"I think you've had enough, Brian," said Justin, gently taking the bottle out of Brian's hands and setting it on the table. The wedding reception had been going strong for more than two hours and in that time Brian had taken full advantage of the open bar. He'd started with a couple of glasses of Samuel Adams beer, then moved on to shots of Jameson's, then Irish Car Bombs, and, finally -- Justin hoped -- champagne.
"There's no such thing as enough!" Brian declared loudly. "Haven't I taught you at least THAT much?"
"Brian," said Justin, leaning close to him. "There IS such thing as a enough -- at least here. All of Denny's relatives are watching."
"This is an Irish wedding, for fuck's sake!" Brian reasoned foggily. "If a man can't get drunk here, then where can he get drunk? I'm upholding a fine old family tradition! My old man was an alcoholic. And his old man was an alcoholic. And I'm sure that HIS old man was one, too! See what I mean?"
"I know about alcoholics, Brian," said Justin. "My grandmother is one. But she does her drinking quietly, sitting in the living room of her house in the suburbs."
"I see," Brian snorted. "You don't mind that I misbehave, just as long as I do it behind closed doors. Well, that's the way WASPs get drunk. But Micks... they like to do their misbehaving in public, where the whole world can see them! And speaking of the whole world watching -- let's dance!" Brian stood up and grabbed Justin's arm, hauling him to his feet. "Shake your ass, Sunshine! Show all the breeders how a couple of fags can use their bodies!"
"Brian!" said Justin, pulling back. "Stop it!"
"Come on, Sunshine!" Brian insisted. He frowned at the dance floor, where Denny and Carole were smiling at each other as they danced, and a number of their relatives, mostly older women and children, swayed awkwardly. "If a bunch of rhythmless straight people can dance to this horrible music, then so can we! Equal rights in Massachusetts! 'I'm once, twice, three times a lady'!"
"Is everything okay here?" asked Pat. He and his partner, Derrick, walked over from where they had been sitting on the other side of the room when they saw Justin's dilemma.
"Uncle Pat!" Brian exclaimed, turning and grabbing Denny's uncle by the shoulders. "You'll dance with me, won't you? Us Irish queers have to stick together, right?"
"Sure, Brian," Pat said calmly. "I'll dance with you. And Derrick can dance with Justin."
"That's hot!" Brian guffawed, lurching towards Pat. "I've been trying to get the boy interested in a foursome, but he's just not into it. He believes in all that breeder shit -- true love and monogamy and happily ever after! In other words, fairy tales -- with an accent on the FAIRY'S TAIL! Get it?"
"I get it." Pat moved Brian onto the dance floor, while Derrick partnered an unsmiling Justin. The band began playing 'We've Only Just Begun' and the floor filled with more couples.
"You're hot, Pat," Brian slurred. "You ever fuck around? Or are you and your partner a couple of those disgustingly perfect faggot role models?"
Pat shook his head. "That's between me and my partner. And, no -- we don't think of ourselves as role models, Brian. We're only trying to live our lives."
Brian grimaced. "When fags try to live their lives, that's when so-called normal people start passing laws to stop them!"
"That's a very cynical outlook," Pat replied. "I haven't found that to be the case."
"You think so?" said Brian, biting his lip. "You should live in Fabulous Pittsburgh, where being a queer is like being a deer during hunting season -- anyone can take a shot at you! Wait until the backlash starts here. When all the right wing hatemongers and your loving and forgiving Catholic Church join forces against the Godless Sodomites! Then you'll see. You'll find out what it's like."
"You forget that I lived through the Eighties, Brian," Pat reminded him. "I know what it's like to have people hate and fear you -- some of them your relatives and friends. I know what it's like to lose friends to AIDS and realize that most straight people don't give a fuck. And that some of them even think it's God's will -- or even hope that all of us die. But things change. People change. Time is in our favor. It IS getting better, whether you believe it or not."
"It's great to live in a Faggots' Paradise, Pat!" Brian sniffed. "So, enjoy your fluffy little dream world. But Justin and I have to live in the Real World. In the Pitts and other places where someone would bash us in the head for daring to dance like this in public!"
"I don't see anyone complaining." Pat looked around. They were surrounded by dancers, including Denny and Carole and both sets of parents. And aunts and uncles. Friends and cousins, including Denny's cousin Jeanette, an ex-nun, and her girlfriend, Marlene. And Derrick and Justin. Justin was now smiling at something that Derrick had told him. Even Father Mike was twirling an elderly woman with surprising grace. "And I'm not afraid, Brian. But what is it that you're afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid of shit!" Brian asserted. "So -- you want to go to the men's room?"
"No! I don't want to go into the men's room!" Pat didn't want to laugh, but he couldn't help it. "Poor Justin! I bet he has his hands full keeping you in line."
"No one 'keeps me in line'!" Brian stopped dancing and glared at Pat. "I do whatever the fuck I want. And so does Justin. We're NOT married and we're not like fucking straight people! Or a pair of dickless fags!"
"I assure you," said Pat. "Derrick and I are far from dickless."
"Says YOU!" Brian turned away and marched unsteadily across the floor to where Justin and Derrick were dancing. The music had changed to some Phil Collins number from the mid-Eighties. Didn't this band know anything except Top 40 shit circa 1984? "Hey!" Brian tapped Derrick on the shoulder. "Mind if I cut in?"
Derrick looked at Brian quizzically. "I think you need to sit out the next few songs, Brian. You look a little shaky on your feet."
"Fuck you!" Brian huffed. "Give me back my partner! Right now!"
"Be my guest." Derrick stepped aside. "Thanks for the dance, Justin."
"My pleasure," Justin replied. "You're a good dancer."
"Yeah, for such an old man!" Brian pulled Justin away. "You're lucky the guy didn't break a fucking hip!"
"Don't tell me? Are you jealous?" Justin raised his eyebrows. "I thought Brian Kinney didn't do jealous?"
They moved into the middle of the dance floor. Brian put his arms around the kid and leaned his forehead against Justin's. "I don't do jealous! That's bullshit. But never forget that your ass is MINE! I OWN it -- lock, stock, and smoking bubble butt!"
"You're so funny, Brian," Justin whispered. "That's why I love you."
"And I..." Brian paused. He clutched at Justin desperately. "I... Fuck! I think I don't feel too well."
Something was definitely wrong. "Brian! Are you okay?"
Brian blinked. The room was spinning. "I... think so."
And Justin watched as his lover slowly slid to the floor.
©Gaedhal, January 2007.
Posted November 5, 2007.