The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".
Pittsburgh, November 2005
One thing Brian recalled vividly from the time when he was recovering from cancer was the exhaustion of doing nothing. Getting up to take a piss or to limp to the kitchen for a bottle of water was a major chore, while mustering up the strength to get into the office felt like an undertaking equal to a trek through the Amazon.
So when Justin suggested that he get into bed and rest he didn't fight it.
Yes, he made a few snarky comments about being ordered around by bossy twinks. And he loudly proclaimed that he felt great. Good enough, in fact, to head over to Woody's to shoot some pool or to hit the afternoon tea dance at Babylon. But when Justin folded back the duvet and coaxed him into it, he acquiesced. He also acquiesced to a lovingly rendered blowjob -- a Justin specialty -- that lulled him into the first real feeling of well-being he'd experienced since the night before the wedding.
Brian closed his eyes and relaxed, a contented smile on his face. He was in his own loft, his own bed, with his own...
Well, with whatever Justin was.
"Brian, I'm going to go to the store."
Justin was up and putting his clothes back on.
Brian sat up. "The store?"
Justin retrieved a small pad from Brian's desk to make a shopping list. "We're out of almost everything. Besides being completely out of toilet paper, I need to get more of your juice, milk for me, peanut butter, bread -- you name it. And I want to get some of the food on this diet Dr. Banerjee gave me." He unfolded a sheet of paper. "You're supposed to have bland, low-residue food for the next two weeks or until your primary care physician says that your digestive tract is back to normal. Potatoes, bananas, cream of wheat..."
Brian recoiled. "Fuck cream of wheat!"
"Cream of wheat," Justin repeated, and continued to read. "Poached chicken or turkey breast, low fat margarine, unflavored yogurt, cottage cheese, plain macaroni or pasta, with margarine but no sauce, white bread..."
"Excuse me?" Brian interrupted. "Am I allowed to have anything that isn't white?"
Justin frowned, his eyes scanning down at the list of permitted foods. "Vegetable broth. That's not white. It's kind of... brownish red. I think."
Brian made a face. "Fabulous. What about ice cream?" He and Justin had had some fun with a carton of Ben & Jerry's a few times in the past.
"As long as it doesn't have any fruit in it." Justin brightened as he read the list. "You can have vanilla pudding! The diner makes that!"
"Vanilla pudding? Jesus," Brian sputtered. "Now I'm eating like fucking Theodore!"
"And eggs, too," said Justin. He made a note on the shopping list. "I can make you an omelet! And tofu, as long as it isn't spicy."
"You mean as long as it doesn't have any fucking taste at all!"
"But you also can't have anything acidic. So no salad dressing, tomato sauce, salsa, mustard, et cetera. Or anything with too much roughage. No fruit, nuts, popcorn or other corn products, beans, whole wheat or whole grain breads..."
"That's my entire fucking diet!" Brian cried. "How can I live on white bread and yogurt?"
"It's only for two weeks." Justin folded the diet and the shopping list and shoved them into his pocket. "I think you can survive that long. And look at it this way, Brian -- turkey is on the list, so you can enjoy Thanksgiving!"
Brian stared at Justin. "'Enjoy' and 'Thanksgiving' don't belong in the same sentence."
"We'll see about that." Justin put on his jacket and wrapped his scarf around his head. "I'll be back in about an hour."
Brian sniffed. "Just in time for us to go to the tea dance at Babylon!"
Justin shook his head. "Just in time for me to make you something to eat before I have to go and work my shift at the Watermark."
"Shit," said Brian. "I forgot that you have to work."
"Yeah," Justin replied. "And if I call in sick I'm out of a job for sure. Clarence is just waiting for an excuse to fire me."
"That fucking son of a bitch," Brian muttered. "You won't have to work there much longer. When I get my settlement from Vance you can quit and focus on doing your art."
"I'm not quitting my job -- no matter what," Justin replied. "I want to pay my share."
"We'll discuss this -- later," said Brian.
Justin went to the store and Brian rested in bed. Or tried to rest. He flipped through a magazine. Then he turned on the radio. Then he turned it off. Then he began going through his CD's, looking for something decent to listen to.
That's when the buzzer began sounding.
"I'm coming," said Brian. It's either Michael, Lindsay, or Deb, he thought. I'm surprised all three of them weren't waiting at the door when we got back from the hospital.
It was Debbie.
"I knew it," said Brian.
"Knew what?" Deb bustled into the room. She was wearing a bright purple car coat and carrying a casserole dish. "Hiya, honey. How are you feeling?"
"Dandy," said Brian. "Just dandy."
"That's good," said Deb. "Because you look like hell!"
"Just what I need to hear to make my day." Brian followed her into the kitchen. "What carb-ladened substance are you going to foist off on me today?"
"Ta dah!" she exclaimed, taking off the aluminum foil cover. "Lasagna!"
Hm, thought Brian. That actually sounds pretty good. Except Dr. Justin won't let me have any!
"Where's Sunshine?" she asked, replacing the cover and putting the dish in the fridge.
"At the store. Buying toilet paper. And lube. Lots and lots of lube."
"You're supposed to be taking it easy!" Deb warned.
"Why do you think we need all that lube?" said Brian. "To take it easy!"
"Brian Kinney -- the king of the one-track mind!" Debbie snorted. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"
Brian raised an eyebrow. "You mean in bed waiting for Justin to get back with the lube?"
"Resting!" Debbie chastened. "Get back in that bed! I'll make some herbal tea."
Brian rolled his eyes. But he also got back into bed.
"Here you go, honey. Nice and hot with plenty of sugar!" Debbie placed a mug of mint tea in his hands. "It's freezing cold in this place. It's too drafty! You and Sunshine should move into a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Get something like Michael and Ben have."
Brian almost choked on his tea. "In Stepford Terrace? Surrounded by dickless fags and breeders? You've got to be fucking kidding!"
"Why not?" said Deb. "It's time you settled down, Brian. You're not a kid anymore."
"Thanks for the news flash."
"I mean it." Deb sat on the edge of the bed. "I know it's hard for you to let go of this image of yourself as the Stud of Liberty Avenue. And that's great while you're young and have no responsibilities. But when you're 35..."
"34!" Brian barked.
"All right, 34," Debbie corrected herself. "You're a grown man. You have a son and you have a partner."
"He's not my partner!" Brian huffed.
"Oh, yeah?" Debbie looked at him quizzically. "Coulda fooled me! You two share your home, your money, your lives. When it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck I guess I just assumed that it's a fucking duck!"
"Justin's ass DOES look a little like a duck's tail. Quack, quack!" Brian snarked.
"Make all the jokes you want," said Debbie. "But maybe all the shit that's been happening lately is a wake-up call for you to get your act together. To set your priorities straight."
Brian bit his bottom lip. "I never set anything straight!"
Debbie sighed and stood up. "You know what I'm talking about. You have some unfinished business in your life, Brian. Like with your mother."
"Leave my fucking mother out of this!" Brian's voice was sharp.
"Okay, I will." Debbie buttoned up her coat. "I know you're going through a rotten patch in your life right now. I know what that's like. I went though it when Vic died. I had to rethink everything. But it was good for me to be forced to do it. It made me realize what a fucking rut I was in. And it made me realize what was important in my life. I probably wouldn't be with Carl today if I hadn't snapped out of all my negative thinking."
"Maybe you should write a self-help book," Brian retorted. "'Debbie's Guide to Life for Fags and the Hags Who Love them'?"
Debbie shrugged. "Maybe I should. And maybe you should read it." She leaned down and kissed Brian on the top of his head. "All I'm saying is don't fuck up the best thing that's ever happened to you. Don't push him away because you're scared. Or because you don't want to let go of some bullshit philosophy that's only going to make you miserable in the end. Tell Justin how you feel. Because he needs to hear it. And you need to say it."
Brian looked away. He didn't want her to see his eyes. "Thanks for the tea. And the lasagna."
Debbie smiled. "My pleasure."
"Hey!" Justin called as he walked into the loft carrying the groceries.
"Sunshine!" Debbie exclaimed. "I was just leaving. I brought you boys some food. And I made some tea for Crabby Appleton up here."
"Thanks, Deb," Justin grinned as he stepped up into the bedroom. "Has he been behaving himself?"
"Yup," Debbie replied, looking at Brian fondly. "I think he has."
Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2005
"Are you ready for this?" Brian asked.
"No." Justin stepped out of the Jeep. The house was bright and suspiciously inviting. He knew everyone was there and he felt like bolting. "But it's time."
"Right," Brian agreed. "It's time."
Jennifer opened the kitchen door just as Brian and Justin walked up to it. "I saw you drive up," she said. "Sweetheart, what are you thinking?"
Justin steadied himself. "I'm thinking that I want to see Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt June. I want to say hello to my sister. And I want them all to meet Brian. It's Thanksgiving and that's the time to see your family. To give thanks for what you have and share it with the people you love. And that's what I want to do."
Justin held tightly to Brian's hand and pushed by Jennifer, into the warm kitchen.
His grandmother was sitting at the table, snipping the ends off green beans, a large glass of scotch next to her. "Justin!" she cried. "I was wondering when you were going to show up!"
"Hi, Grandma." Justin bent down to hug her. "This is my friend, Brian."
"Hello, Brian." The woman smiled at both of them. She looked like a sad and faded version of Jennifer, but Brian could see that she had once been a beautiful woman.
"Hello, Mrs. Owen." Brian shook her hand. "Justin's told me a lot about you." Yeah, like the fact that you've been an alcoholic for the last 30 years. Well, I can relate to that. Most of my family are alcoholics, too, but you don't seem the type who is going to freak out during dinner and throw the fucking turkey through the dining room window!
"Are you a friend of Justin's from school? Are you the boy who just got married?" The woman frowned, as if searching for the right information in her alcohol-muddled brain.
"No, Mother," Jennifer interjected. "That's Dennis. He was Justin's roommate at Dartmouth. He's in Boston. This is... Brian Kinney. He and Justin... share an apartment."
"Oh! How nice!" said Grandma Owen.
"Is Justin here? I thought I heard his voice." Jennifer's sister, June, came into the room. She was a few years younger than Jen, tall and brittle-looking, her dark blonde hair tied back with a velvet ribbon. "Darling!" She put her arms around Justin and hugged him. Then her eyes went to the man beside him. "And this must be the famous Brian!"
"It must be," Brian acknowledged.
"Yeah, he's pretty famous," Justin nodded. "In certain circles."
"Or infamous." Brian's eyes met June's. So, she knows all, even if the old lady is clueless.
"I'm pleased to finally meet you, Brian," June said firmly. "And I mean that."
"Where's Grandpa?" Justin asked.
"He and your father are in the den. Watching football," said Jennifer. Her hands were clenched, as if she needed to hang onto something, but there was nothing there.
"I'm going to introduce Brian to Grandpa." Justin's face was set.
"I don't think that's a good idea," said Jennifer.
"Why not?" Grandma Owen asked.
"Yes, Jen," June added. "Why not?"
"Nothing, Mother." Jennifer patted the old woman. "You finish getting those green beans ready, okay? I need to talk to Justin -- privately."
"No, Mom." Justin took Brian's hand. "We're not staying for dinner, so you don't have to worry. But I want Grandpa to meet Brian. I want him to understand. And then we'll leave."
"Leave?" Grandma Owen looked up at Justin. "You aren't staying for dinner?"
"No, Grandma." Justin leaned down and kissed her papery cheek. He could smell the perfume she had worn for as long as he could remember. Red Door by Elizabeth Arden. It had a sweet, but sharply metallic scent. "We can't stay. Dad won't let Brian into the house, let alone have him eat dinner with us."
"Why not?" She looked at her grandson, then at her two daughters, mystified. "Is there something going on here you're not telling me?"
Jennifer turned away, biting her tongue, while June nodded at Justin.
"Brian is my boyfriend, Grandma," Justin stated. "That's why Dad doesn't want him here."
"Boyfriend?" The old woman's mouth gaped open. "What do you mean?"
"Justin is gay, Mother," said June, hoping the information would finally penetrate the fog. "He and Brian live together. And Craig is being a jerk about it. That's the story in a nutshell. Have I missed anything, Jen?"
"No," Jennifer sighed. "That's it. You haven't missed anything."
"Then I think Justin should go and do what he came here to do," said June. "Although I wish you two would reconsider staying for dinner."
"I wish we could," said Justin. "But it's not possible. Not with the way Dad feels."
"Gay?" said Grandma Owen. "Justin?"
"Yes, Grandma," Justin confirmed. "I'm gay. And Brian is gay, too. We're both gay. And we're gay together."
"Very gay together," Brian said, stifling a laugh. Justin poked him in the ribs.
"Oh, dear!" said the old woman. Then, with trembling fingers, she reached for her scotch and took a long sip. And then another.
"I could use some of that," Brian whispered.
"Later," said Justin. "And I'll have one, too."
Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2005
Molly heard someone come into the den.
She was lying on the floor, her chin propped on a throw pillow, and she was bored. In the kitchen Mom, Aunt June, and Grandma were cooking and talking about people she had never heard of. People from a long time ago. She wasn't interested in cooking and she wasn't interested in people she didn't know and would probably never meet. Oh, and people who were dead, too. People who had been dead forever. No way was she going to listen to that!
But in the den it was also boring. Daddy and Grandpa sat and stared at the football game on the big screen TV and never said a word to each other. They'd had a big screen TV before, but this was a new one. The latest model. Daddy always got the latest model. That was the best thing about him owning an electronics store -- all the stuff. Computers and cameras and televisions and CD and DVD and MP3 players and all kinds of good stuff.
But sometimes Molly got tired of stuff, even good stuff. Like when she sat in her room after dinner and tried to do her homework while she listened to her parents arguing downstairs. Like when she missed her brother, Justin. Which was almost every day. But especially when her parents were arguing. Which was also almost every day.
Molly looked up.
"Justin!" she cried. It was as if he knew she was wishing for him and so he decided to appear! She jumped up and ran to her brother .
"Hey, Mollusk," he said, his voice almost a whisper. "How're you doing?"
"Okay," she breathed. She'd been hoping for weeks that Justin would come for Thanksgiving, even though her mother had told her it probably wouldn't happen, especially after he didn't come to her birthday party. But it did happen! He was here!
"How dare you come in here!" Craig's voice was low, but dark. He was suddenly standing there, so close that Molly could almost feel the fury radiating from his body. And it frightened her.
"I came to see Grandma and Grandpa," said Justin. He rubbed Molly's shoulders as she clung to him. "And Aunt June and Molly, too. It's Thanksgiving, Dad. That's why I'm here."
"I know what it is!" Craig said through gritted teeth. He was speaking to Justin, but his eyes were on the figure standing directly behind his son. Brian Kinney.
"What's going on?" Grandpa Owen demanded. "Justin -- where have you been? Your Grandmother was asking for you last night."
"I'm sorry, Grandpa," Justin replied. "I know Dad doesn't want us here, but we came to see you anyway. And I... I want you to meet Brian."
"Justin, stop!" Craig ordered. "Get out! Both of you!"
"No!" Molly wailed. "You just got here!"
"Molly, go to your room!" Craig grabbed his daughter's arm and jerked her backwards.
Molly yelped and pulled away, clutching her arm where her father's fingers had dug in. "That hurt!" she cried, and ran from the room.
"What the hell has gotten into you?" Grandpa said to his son-in-law as he got out of his chair. One minute they were watching the game and the next minute everyone was acting crazy!
"Stay out of it!" Craig hissed. Then he focused on his son and the twisted monster who had corrupted him. "If the two of you don't leave immediately, I'm calling the police!"
Grandpa Owen stared, thunderstruck. "The police? What's gotten into you, Craig!"
"It's not me. It's this... this person!" Craig spat. "This child molester! And what he's done to my son. Or, rather, the boy who used to be my son!"
"I'm not a boy." Justin's voice was cold. "And I wasn't a child when I met Brian. I was 22 years old. And I'm about to turn 23. I'm a man, Dad, whether you believe that or not. A gay man. And that's the truth. You can believe or not believe it. Accept me or not accept me. But that won't change what I am. I'm your son. And I'm a queer."
"What?" Grandpa Owen took a step forward. "Justin, what are you saying?"
"I'm gay, Grandpa," Justin stated simply. He took Brian's hand and squeezed it. "And this is Brian. He's my boyfriend. My lover. We've been living together since I graduated from Dartmouth. That's why I'm not working at Dad's store. That's why I wasn't there with Mom and Dad and Molly at the airport to meet you when you came in from Chicago. It's not because I didn't want to be there, but because Dad's shut me out."
"You shut yourself out!" Craig countered. "You had a choice -- be normal and be a part of this family, or stay with this... this sick pervert! Well, you made your choice, Justin. And I don't want you here as long as you've living some disgusting lifestyle with a bunch of fags! I don't want Molly exposed to that shit! And I had hoped that no one else in the family would find out about it, either. But you had to push it in our faces, didn't you? You couldn't resist flaunting yourself!"
Justin felt his throat tighten. He knew he was on the verge of tears. The anger and hatred on his father's face and the shock and incomprehension on his grandfather's was almost more than he could bear.
But Brian was behind him. Holding him up. He knew that Brian badly wanted to tell Craig off, but Justin had asked him not to. "This is something I have to do myself. All you need to do is be there. That's what will keep me from freaking out completely."
"That's exactly what I'm doing, Dad," said Justin in a choked voice. "Flaunting myself. Walking into what used to be my own home, saying hello to my mother and my aunt and my sister and my grandparents -- and even you, Dad -- that's flaunting myself. Showing you all that I'm okay. No, that I'm better than okay! That I'm happy! That I'm with someone I love. And who loves me. I thought that's what every parent wants? For their child to be happy. To find love."
"You call that love?" Craig's eyes narrowed. "That's not love! Don't you dare call what you and this... this man do together love! It's filthy and it's evil -- and nothing will ever convince me otherwise! So don't talk to me about love! If you really knew what love was, or if you really loved us -- your family -- you'd never soil yourself by letting this man touch you!"
"You'll never understand, will you?" Justin whispered. "Because you don't want to understand. You think what Brian and I do together is filthy? We make love, Dad! And it's a beautiful thing!"
"I don't have to listen to this!" Craig turned away.
"Justin, please say there's some mistake," Grandpa Owen pleaded. He looked at his grandson and then at the tall man standing with him. A man who was biting his lip to keep from screaming. His grandson's lover. It couldn't be true!
"Yeah, there's a big mistake -- and Justin made it!" Craig retorted.
"There's no mistake, Grandpa." Justin hesitated for a moment, then reached out and hugged his grandfather. "Please don't hate me. And don't hate Brian. Because I love him. And I still love you all." He looked at Craig. "Even you, Dad. Even if I never see you again."
"Get out!" Craig shouted. "Now!"
Brian and Justin came out of the den. Jennifer and June stood outside the door, their faces strained, while Grandma Owen and Molly huddled in the background, watching.
"Bye, Mom," said Justin. "I hope your dinner isn't ruined."
"Justin..." Jennifer began. But she couldn't continue. She looked away, the tears flowing down her cheeks.
"Goodbye, darling." Aunt June stepped forward. She kissed Justin quickly. Then she touched Brian's arm. "And you take good care of him, Brian." Because he's going to need you, she added silently.
Brian nodded. After this scene he needed a fucking cigarette. And a good, strong belt of whiskey.
"I will," he said.
And the two of them walked out the front door.
That's one down, thought Brian. And it's not over yet.
©Gaedhal, March 2007.
Posted November 5, 2007.