THANKFUL

"A Queer As Folk USA Alternate Stream FanFic"

by Gaedhal

Parts 31-33

The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".

Part 31

Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2005

"It's about time you two showed up!" Debbie exclaimed as Brian and Justin pushed passed her and into the house.

"Excuse us," said Brian. "We need to use your bathroom." He towed Justin up the stairs and Deb heard the door slam behind them.

"Jesus!" she puffed. "Don't those two get enough at home?"

"Leave 'em alone, Deb," Carl laughed. "They're young and having fun!" He wrapped his arms around his wife and gave her a playful squeeze. "Maybe we should sneak into the bathroom after they finish?"

"You're a devil!" Debbie gave him a gentle slap. "I got stuff to take care of, so scat!"

Debbie hurried back to the kitchen while Carl headed downstairs to his new rec room. She still had a million things to do before dinner was ready to serve. Lindsay was just opening the oven to check on the temperature of the turkey, while Melanie was sitting at the table, mashing the potatoes.

"The boys are here -- finally!" she announced.

"About time," Melanie sniffed. She poured a little more milk into the bowl. "Gus has only asked when Daddy was going to get here about fifty times! Gus hasn't seen Brian in almost two weeks and then he's late again today! You'd think Brian might consider his son's feelings once in a while instead of his own fucking needs!"

"Brian is trying, Mel," Lindsay insisted. "He's been over to see Gus a lot in the past few months. But he and Justin were out of town last week and then he was sick!"

Mel shrugged. "There's always some excuse. I wish you wouldn't constantly stick up for that asshole, Lindz."

Lindsay set her mouth. They'd had this discussion too many times and she was tired of it. "I'm only explaining, Mel, not excusing."

Deb checked the meat thermometer sticking out of the turkey's breast. "Looks done to me," she pronounced. "Take it out!"

Lindsay hoisted the turkey out of the oven and placed it on the counter. The rich aroma of the cooked bird filled the small house. "It looks beautiful, Deb!"

"It's a nice big one, too! A 25 pounder! Carl got it free from the Policeman's Benevolent Association," Debbie boasted.

Gus wandered into the kitchen. He and the other guests -- Michael, Ben, Baby J. R, Hunter, Emmett, and Ted -- had been sitting downstairs watching Carl's new big-screen television in the rec room he'd built in the basement. "Where's Daddy? Uncle Carl says he came!"

Mel frowned. "I thought you said Brian and Justin were here, Deb."

"Oh, um," Debbie coughed. "He and Justin are upstairs. In the bathroom." She patted Gus on the head. "They'll be down in a minute, honey. Why don't you go and see how Uncle Mikey and J.R. are doing? You can tell them it's almost time for dinner."

"Okay," Gus nodded and went out.

"Up in the bathroom?" Melanie shook her head. "That fucking asshole!"

"Mel, we agreed that you wouldn't say bad things about Brian in front of Gus!" Lindsay warned.

"I didn't say it in front of him!" Melanie retorted. "Although it's all I can do to hold my tongue sometimes! Really, Lindz! His son is waiting to see him and he's upstairs getting his dick sucked by his blond boytoy!"

"That's enough!" Debbie commanded. "Let's get the food on the table. You two can argue about Brian on your own time."

The guys came up from the rec room and sat down at Debbie's crowded table. Mikey placed his daughter, J.R., in the high-chair and tied a Captain Astro bib around her neck while the girls brought out the food.

"Michael, will you go upstairs and tell Brian and Justin to get their asses out of that bathroom and get down here pronto?" said Deb. "It's time to eat."

"If we have to wait for them to finish, we'll be here until Christmas Eve!" Ted snarked.

"That's for sure!" Emmett giggled.

But Michael's face was somber. "I doubt they're in there fucking, if that's what you all think. They went over to the Taylor house this afternoon. Justin was going to come out to his grandparents while they're in town. Considering the way Justin's father feels about queers, it was probably a very nasty scene."

"Cripes!" Deb put her hands on her hips. "Why didn't anyone tell about me this?"

"Because you would have called up Jennifer Taylor and warned her that Justin and Brian were going over there, that's why!" Michael returned.

"You're darned tootin' I would have warned her!" Debbie said.

"And that's why I kept my big mouth shut!" Michael replied. Then he added in a softer voice, "For once."

Ben touched his husband's arm. "You did the right thing, Michael. This was Justin's call. It must have been a difficult decision for him."

"Yeah," said Debbie. "Especially since his fucking boyfriend never came out to HIS parents! For all his big talk, Brian Kinney is a fucking coward and a pussy boy to boot!"

"Glad to know exactly what you think of me, Deb. This is quite the day for revelations."

They all looked up to see Brian standing there. Justin, his eyes red and his face splotchy, was by his side, holding tightly to his hand.

"Daddy!" Gus cried in delight. He left his chair and sped to Brian's side, attaching himself to his father's leg.

"Hiya, Sonny Boy." Brian lifted Gus and pressed his face against the child's soft cheek. "You ready to eat a ton of turkey today?"

"Yeah! A ton a turkey!" he repeated. "And pie, too!"

"Of course. Plenty of pie. Good boy." Brian set him down and pointed him towards Lindsay. "Why don't you go and sit with your mommies?"

"Come and have something to eat," Michael coaxed. "I know you're on that special diet, Brian, but you can have the turkey and gravy. And some mashed potatoes. And Justin must be hungry, too."

"I don't feel like anything, thanks." Justin's voice was muted, like all the air had gone out of him. He looked up at Brian and a silent signal passed between them.

"I think we'd better go," said Brian. "It wouldn't do for Mrs. Pittsburgh P-FLAG of 2005 to be seen breaking bread with -- what was it? A fucking coward and a pussy boy."

"You two sit down right now!" Debbie blared. "You're part of this family and you're going to eat with us -- whether you like it or not!"

Brian hesitated. He searched Justin's face. He was still distressed from the confrontation at his parents' house and Brian didn't want him to be put through any more fucking upsets today. Especially not from people who should be the most understanding.

But Justin shrugged almost imperceivably and Brian nodded back at him.

"Okay," said Brian. "Truce. If there's room at the table, then I guess we can stay -- for a little while."

"Whatever, dude! I'm starving!" said Hunter. "Bring on the food!"

"Keep your shorts on!" Debbie replied. "It's coming!"

"Daddy and Justin! Sit next to me!" Gus demanded. Lindsay and Mel reluctantly made a space for Brian and Justin to sit down, with Gus wedged happily between them.

Carl sliced the turkey and Debbie began handing around the large platter.

"See? This is where everyone belongs!" Debbie said with satisfaction. "One big happy family!"

"I wish Uncle Vic was here," said Michael. "Things don't seem the same without him."

"Amen to that." Debbie crossed herself. "I'm sure he's watching from up above. And he knows we're thinking about him."

"And I'm sure he's getting better food wherever he is than this dried up buzzard you call a turkey," said Brian, chewing carefully. "My jaw hasn't had a workout like this since the Great Suck-off of 1997."

"Jesus, Brian!" Michael sighed, while Ted and Emmett convulsed with laughter.

"That's the thanks I get for cooking this beautiful meal!" Debbie said. "Smart remarks from Mr. Brian Fucking Kinney!"

"The turkey is wonderful, Deb," said Lindsay, kicking Brian under the table. "Brian is only joking. Look -- he's having a second helping!" She placed two more large slices of turkey on his plate. "And you're going to eat it. All of it!"

Brian speared one of the slices with his fork and put it on Justin's plate. "You need this more than I do, Sunshine. And Gus and I will work on this last piece -- together."

"Yeah! Together!" Gus crowed. Then he and his father dug into the turkey.

"That's more like it!" Debbie sat back and grinned. Everyone was fed and no one was fighting. Dinner was a success.

Carl leaned over and kissed her. "Happy Thanksgiving," he said.

"Same to you," she replied. "And many, many more."

***

Part 32

Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2005

"Here's some leftovers."

Debbie shoved three plastic containers filled with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie into Justin's hands.

"We've had enough food," said Brian, putting on his leather jacket. "We don't need to bring any home."

"You're taking these!" Debbie insisted. "Heat 'em up in the microwave and have them tomorrow for dinner."

"Because they'll be so much better the second day, right?" Brian rolled his eyes.

"Thanks, Deb," said Justin, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "It was a great meal."

"You're welcome, Sunshine." Debbie didn't mention that Brian and Justin between them had eaten less than Gus. That's one reason she'd piled on the leftovers -- maybe they'd get hungry when they got home.

"You boys be careful," Debbie warned. "It's slippery out there."

"Yes, Mom." Brian opened the front door and let Justin go out to the Jeep.

"Don't be a smartass," said Debbie. "You might be a grown man, Brian, but you're still not too big or too old to listen to me."

Brian snorted. "So when will I be too big and too old to have that privilege? I want to mark the date on my calendar."

Debbie shook her head. Brian had been talking tough since he was 14 years old and she'd always ignored it. But maybe it was time for him to get over himself. "You have a son. You have a partner. You're not a kid anymore, Brian, no matter how immature you act."

Brian felt the wind beginning to whip up and a shiver went through him. "I'll take that under consideration."

"Oh, and speaking of calendars," Debbie added. "Don't forget to mark down Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, too. We're opening presents here on Christmas Eve and I'm making pizza. Then Christmas dinner the next day."

Brian winced. Debbie was always attempting to micro-manage every aspect of every holiday.

"That's a month away," said Brian. He took out his pack of American Spirits and lit a cigarette. "I might be busy."

"Don't give me any fucking grief, Brian!" Debbie said pointedly. "You aren't going to spend Christmas the way you usually do -- over in Babylon, getting your dick sucked in the backroom. You and Sunshine are coming here! And you know you aren't supposed to be smoking! You're still recovering!"

"First my mother, then my doctor," Brian turned away and blew out a puff of smoke. "What would I do without you, Deb?"

"Be in big fucking trouble, that's what!"

She watched as Brian squared his shoulders and strolled down the walkway to the curb. He still walked cocky and talked tough, but Debbie could see that he was scared. For only the second time since he was a kid, he didn't feel like he was in control of his life. The first time had been when he got cancer. But at least then Debbie was sure of the reason for Brian's fear. It was harder to understand now. Sure, he was out of a job and probably having some money troubles, but welcome to the fucking world, Brian Kinney! The main difficulty was that Brian liked to be in control. It was the only way he felt safe. But right now so many aspects of his life were out of his hands. That was the real reason.

"The boys take off?" Carl came up behind her as she peered out of the doorway.

"Yeah." She watched as the Jeep pulled away. "But I'm worried about them. And especially about Brian."

"They'll be fine," said Carl. "You worry too much."

"I guess," she said. And she closed the front door.

***

"I'm driving."

Brian made Justin get out of the driver's seat and into the passenger side. He revved the engine and the Jeep sped down the wet streets. It had snowed earlier in the evening, but then it turned to freezing rain, making the streets slick and dark with hidden ice.

"Where are we going?" Justin noticed that they were headed in the opposite direction from the way to the loft.

"Nowhere," said Brian.

Nowhere.

Justin knew that could only be one place.

The house was only a few blocks from Debbie's, but the change in the neighborhood was striking. Everything was newer, larger, and more solidly middle class. Instead of being crowded together on a narrow street, the houses had yards, big garages, and new cars and SUV's in the driveways. Compared to the exclusive area Justin had grown up in, it was still modest, but Justin could see for the first time the outward difference in the way Brian and Michael had lived as boys -- Brian, the son of a union man with a well-paying job, and Michael, the child of a single mother barely making ends meet. And yet it had been Brian who had constantly sought to escape from this very house. And it was in Michael's home that he found that refuge.

Brian pulled into the driveway. A late model Toyota was already parked there, but the place looked dark, as if there was no one home.

"Is anyone here?" Justin asked. "I can't see any lights."

"Oh, they're here." Brian sat and stared at the house. "My mother doesn't like a lot of lights on."

"Why not?" Justin frowned.

"Because then she might actually see what was going on," Brian replied.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing." Brian zipped up his leather jacket, as if steeling himself against the cold. "You can stay here. I'll leave the engine running. I shouldn't be in there very long."

"No way! I'm going with you!"

"You don't have to," said Brian. "Really, you don't."

"But I do," Justin insisted. He opened his door and jumped out, ending the discussion.

Brian sighed and turned off the engine. "Okay."

He got out of the vehicle and walked around the front where Justin was waiting for him. Justin slipped his hand into Brian's.

"Where are your fucking gloves?" Brian admonished. "Your hands are freezing!"

"I know," said Justin. "It doesn't matter. Let's go inside."

"Yeah," Brian agreed. "Before I lose my nerve."

***

Part 33

Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2005

Claire glanced at her watch.

Another hour and she could go. She'd already sat with her mother since early this afternoon. Sat through a football game that neither of them was watching. Sat through her mother's 4:00 trip to Mass. Sat through a tasteless, listless dinner. And sat through almost an entire fifth of scotch. By the time Joan was on her third drink, Claire had joined her.

And that's how I join a fine family tradition of drunks, she thought, one goddamn glass at a time. By the time I'm Mom's age, I'll be as pitiful as she is -- if I'm not there already.

Claire knew her ex-husband was bringing the kids home at 10:00, so that gave her an excuse to leave. Otherwise she could see Joan guilting her into staying well into the night. That had happened before, mainly right after Daddy had died, and it was a nightmare! Spending too much time in that house was no picnic. Sometimes she thought that the only reason she'd married her worthless ex was to get out of the house. Well, that hadn't worked out the way she'd planned. But then what did?

And Brian. He always got off easy. It wasn't fair. He'd escaped. Gone to college. Lived his own life. Didn't give a shit about her or Mom or Daddy. Oh, he handed out money every once in a while, but not much. Well, maybe he paid Mom's bills. And he'd paid off the mortgage on her house and also Daddy's gambling debts. But where was he when you really needed him? Where was he at Thanksgiving? Or Christmas? Or on the other 363 days of the year?

A bouquet of red and white roses sat on the coffee table.

Brian thought he could make everything better with a goddamn bunch of flowers! That was Brian's answer to everything. Just like Daddy when he got drunk and smacked Mom around. As soon as he sobered up he'd send flowers. As if that made everything all right. As if that erased all the shit he'd caused.

Brian was just like Daddy.

With one big exception.

What would Mom say if she knew? Claire shook her head at the thought. What would Daddy have said? He'd probably have killed Brian. So maybe it was just as well that he hadn't known. That neither of their parents ever knew that their precious son -- their handsome, smart, rich, perfect Brian -- was a fairy.

But Claire knew. She's known since she was in high school. She'd heard whispers about her brother even when he was in middle school. Heard a nasty story about him and a young, good-looking gym teacher, who was inexplicably fired one day and never seen again. Then Brian started hanging out with Mikey Novotny, who everyone knew was a total little fag.

Luckily, she graduated when Brian was a freshman, so she didn't have to endure everyone laughing behind her back because her brother was "that way." She went on to Allegheny Community College, but she hated school and dropped out as soon as she met Pete McNaughton. But she still heard stories about her little brother. About how he'd alienated some jock and got suspended for a week after he broke the guy's fingers by smashing them in a locker. About how he refused to cut his hair when he was playing soccer. Refused to follow any rules when they didn't suit his purpose. The time he ran away and then came back and had to go to a drug rehab place. Then there was the punk band he and Mikey Novotny started. Brian dyed his hair black and painted his fingernails and looked like a goddamn freak! That should have given her parents a clue, but they'd been too dumb to understand what it really meant.

But each time Claire was sure Brian had fucked up his life completely, he'd come up smelling like a rose! He ended up getting a scholarship to Penn State. And some guy bankrolled him for his first two years there, giving him money to buy clothes and books and whatever he needed. Yeah, I'm sure the guy did it out of the goodness of his heart! But still her parents never figured it out.

It wasn't fair! It just wasn't fair.

Joan Kinney poured another splash of scotch into her glass, spilling half of it.

"Watch it, Mom." Claire got up to wipe the spill.

That's when the front door opened and both women looked up.

"Brian?" Claire was surprised. She'd called him about ten times, pleading with him to make an appearance for Thanksgiving, but she'd never in a million years believed that he would do it.

And... he wasn't alone.

No. He wouldn't. Would he?

"Hello, Mom." Brian walked into the living room, a short and very young-looking blond guy at his heels.

"Brian, I didn't think you were coming." Joan put her cheek up for her son to kiss.

"But, amazingly enough, here I am." Brian brushed her forehead with his lips.

"Brian, can I speak with you?" Claire's voice was icy. "In the kitchen? Now?"

"No thanks," Brian brushed his sister off. "We already ate."

"Oh," said Joan, focusing on Justin for the first time. "You brought a friend."

"Brian!" Claire pleaded. "I need to talk to you. Right now!"

"In a minute," said Brian. "I want to introduce Justin to Mom. Mom -- this is Justin."

"Shit," Claire whispered to herself. Brian would drop this bombshell and then stroll off, as usual, leaving her to deal with the nasty aftermath.

"Justin?" Joan took the boy's offered hand and shook it limply.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Kinney." Justin smiled ingratiatingly at his lover's mother. "You have a lovely home." He noted that the statues and pictures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other saints outnumbered pictures of the family by about three-to-one.

"Why, thank you, dear." Joan looked at the boy in confusion. Who was this person and why had Brian brought him here? "We waited for you for dinner, Brian, but you never came. Where did you go?"

"I told Claire that we had other plans for Thanksgiving," Brian said. "Didn't she tell you?"

"Yes, but I don't see what could be more important than having Thanksgiving with your own family." But something was beginning to dawn in Joan Kinney's numbed mind. Something that couldn't be true. "Did you say... we? What do you mean by... we?"

"We." Brian looked his mother directly in the eyes. "Me and Justin. That's what I came over here to tell you. Justin's been living with me for the past five months. And he's been my lover for almost a year."

"But... but... that means that..." Joan gaped at her son and this... this person in horror. "That..."

"That I'm gay, Mom." There, thought Brian. That was easy. Just like getting your liver extracted without anaesthetic. "That's it. That's what I came here to say."

"That can't be true! I don't believe it!" Joan turned to her daughter. "Did you know about this?"

Claire sighed. Now the shit would really hit the fan. "Yes, Mother. I knew. I've known for years."

Joan was at a loss. "And you never told me? Never warned me?" She closed her eyes and prayed silently. Help me, Lord, to deal with this burden. And to help my son see Your plan for his salvation. "Thank the Lord that your father didn't know!"

"He did," Brian replied simply. Then he glanced at Justin, who nodded -- and reached out to take his hand.

Now it was Claire's turn to gape. "Daddy knew?"

"I told him before he died. Jack came to my loft to tell me that he had cancer. A few days later I drove over here. He was out in the garage, going through some boxes. That's when I told him." Brian paused, remembering the pain of that moment. "He told me that I should be the one dying, not him. But I didn't die. Not even when I did get cancer. No, I didn't die. But he did."

"You didn't die because the Lord spared you!" Joan exclaimed. "He spared you for a reason, Brian! He gave you a second chance to save yourself!" She glared at Justin. "If you avoid sin! If you repent and stay away from evil people like... like this!"

Justin shrank against Brian's side. Joan Kinney's vitriol was almost palpable -- and it was directed at him.

But Brian put his arm around his lover. Tightened his hold on him. Thankful that he was there. Thankful that, for once, he wasn't alone.

"You think Justin is evil? Then I'm even more evil, Mom, since I was the one who introduced him to the Wonderful World of Fagdom. Yes, I took the virginity of this sweet, blond boy. I stuck my big dick up his ass and fucked him into Christmas -- and I mean that literally!"

"And I loved it," said Justin. "Thanks, Brian." And he kissed him on the lips.

"Shame on you!" Joan stood up and shook her finger at the pair furiously. "Shame on both of you! God will not be mocked! You'll find out!"

"I don't need to find out anything, Mom," said Brian. "I learned everything I need to know about what's evil from living in this house for 18 years. Living and surviving. You know that song all the fags love? 'I Will Survive'? Well, it's fucking true. I did survive. And I'll continue surviving, no matter what you think, no matter what you say."

"Shame!" Joan repeated. But then her face crumpled and she sat back down in her chair. "Shame," she whispered. And then she wept.

"You guys better go," said Claire. Yes, cleaning up the mess Brian always leaves behind. That's my lot in life!

"Okay. It's time," Brian agreed. "Bye, Mom," he added. "Sorry we missed dinner. But there's always Christmas."

"Brian! Please?" Claire went to the front door and opened it.

They went out and Claire shut the door behind them. Shut it and locked it.

But there are things you can't shut out. Can't lock out. They come into the house, no matter what the hell you do.

Claire poured her mother a glass of scotch and another for herself as well. The bottle was almost empty, but there were two more in the pantry. What was it Brian used to say about Daddy and his booze?

Pain management. That was it.

A fine old family tradition.

Why fight it?

So she didn't.

©Gaedhal, March 2007.

Posted November 5, 2007.