Parts 34-36 FINALE
The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".
Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2005
"What are you doing?"
Justin had turned over in bed and woke up when he felt an empty space next to him. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and went in search of Brian, finding him at the front window, smoking and staring out at the cold rain that was falling on Pittsburgh.
"Nothing," he said. "Just thinking, I guess."
Brian shrugged. "I don't know. Like I said -- nothing." He took a long drag of his cigarette and then blew the smoke out slowly.
"Your mom?" Justin moved close to him. It was chilly in the loft, but by the window it was freezing, and Brian, as usual, was standing there naked.
"Maybe," Brian admitted. "A little."
"It's shitty that she reacted the way she did." Justin snaked his arm around Brian's waist. His skin was cool to the touch and he shivered as Justin softly stroked his side.
Brian lifted the cigarette to his lips again. "And it's shitty that your father was an asshole to you."
Justin smiled. "We're quite the dysfunctional pair, aren't we?"
But Brian shook his head. "Not us. Them. You know that when my mother found out I had cancer she came to the office to see me."
"Really?" Justin was surprised. He knew that when he got sick Brian didn't tell many people about it until he finished treatment. "Why did you tell her?"
"I didn't. Deb did. That was my first mistake. I thought Deb should know so she wouldn't murder me when she found out later. But then she ran into Joanie at church, of all fucking places! And she told her. She fucking told her! And Joanie went straight to Vangard and cornered me in my office."
"What did she say?" Justin tried to imagine how he would feel if he'd just found out that his lover had been diagnosed with cancer. Even thinking about it made his stomach churn. So what had Brian's mother felt? Her child! Her only son! Justin knew how his own mother would totally lose it if he got cancer. But Joan Kinney wasn't like Jennifer Taylor. That much was clear.
Brian made a choking sound that was partly a laugh and partly a sob. "She said that God had given me cancer to test me. That it was my last chance to turn my life around before I died. It was just like she said tonight. That I should accept God's plan for me, which apparently included getting my diseased ball sucked out of my nutsack and replaced with a piece of plastic, then being burned to a crisp by a raygun every day for four weeks until I was so fucking sick and exhausted that I could barely drag myself out of bed to take a piss. God certainly is a joker, isn't he, Sunshine?"
Justin leaned his head against Brian's chest. He felt so solid. So vital. Like a fucking force of nature. Like nothing could defeat him, not ever. But Justin could also feel a slight tremble. As if there were a damaged, desperate child curled up inside that beautiful body. A lost child that had never been found. But Justin knew he was there. Knew he could find him. And save him.
"I'm sorry, Brian. So fucking sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry about. Shit happens. I'm still here. I survived my family and I survived cancer. And it could have been worse, believe me. A hell of a lot worse. When I..." Brian stopped. He seemed as if he was going to tell Justin something more. Something important about his past. But then he fell silent.
"I'm glad you were there with me," said Justin. "Especially when Dad went ballistic. I was afraid for a moment, but then I remembered that you were right behind me. Then I stopped being scared."
"You didn't need me. You were fine all by yourself."
"No, I wasn't. You gave me the courage to do what I had to do." Justin paused and took a deep breath. "And I'm glad I was with you at your mom's. That you... you trusted me enough to let me be there. To let me see what it was like to... to live there. To grow up in that house."
"You can never really know what it was like," Brian said. "And I wouldn't want you to. I would never want anyone to fucking know what that was like! To want to escape so badly every fucking day of your life. To never know what to expect, so you always expect the worst. To understand that if your parents ever found out what you really were or how you really felt, then you were as good as dead. No one should know what that's like, but especially not a kid. And I don't want you even trying to imagine it. One person with nightmares is enough around here."
"I never have nightmares," Justin informed him. "Only dreams. Beautiful dreams. About you."
"About my cock, you mean!"
"That, too. But mainly about you. All of you. And about us."
"Us." Brian's cigarette had burned down almost to the filter. "What the fuck does that mean?"
Justin swallowed. "Me. You. Together. Not afraid to show each other the things we hide from everyone else. Like today."
"I don't want you to get hurt," Brian said suddenly.
Justin was startled. What did Brian mean? Was he warning Justin? Or warning himself?
"Then don't hurt me," Justin replied. "And I won't hurt you. If we're honest with each other, what more do we need to do?"
"Listen -- I know you want things that... that I can't give you. Or won't give you."
"What things, Brian?"
Brian took Justin's left hand and ran his index finger along his palm, brushing against the third finger. "Romantic shit. Stepford Terrace. Rings. Marching down the aisle of my mother's church in matching Vera Wangs."
"I don't think your mother's church would allow that even if I wanted it. Which I don't."
"But what about Denny? Didn't you look at him and Carole doing the whole wedding farce and think -- why the fuck not me? We were even in Massachusetts where dickless fags can do it legally. You must have thought about it."
"Maybe I wondered what it would be like, but that's only thinking, Brian. That's not really wanting. Or doing. I'm only 22. We have plenty of time to do whatever we both decide to do. You told me once that we didn't need locks on our doors to keep each other inside. And we don't need rings on our fingers to prove that we love each other. That we're here, together, because we want to be. At least, that's why I'm here. And I'm guessing that's why you're here, too."
Brian snorted. "I'm here because I put down a shitload of cash to pay off this fucking loft! And another shitload for stainless steel kitchen fixtures, Philippe Starck appliances, Italian Modo living room set, Barcelona chair, Mies van der Rohe coffee table, Bang and Olufsen sound system, track lighting..."
"Okay! Okay! I get it!" Justin laughed. "I know why you're here. It's because of all your stuff! But there must be a reason why I'm here with you. Besides the fact that I'm such good company."
"I don't know. Fish have a short shelf life. And you have to walk a dog. And cats -- they think they fucking own you."
"I know I don't own you, Brian. And you don't own me."
"So we're agreed." Brian turned away from the window and stamped out the remnants of his cigarette in the ashtray sitting on the edge of drinks cart. "It's late. And you have to work tomorrow."
"I know. Double shift. Lunch and dinner. If Clarence doesn't fire my ass."
"Then you better get some sleep."
Brian led Justin up to the bedroom and pushed him back on the bed. Then he unwrapped Justin from the blanket and lowered himself on top of him.
"What you're doing isn't putting me to sleep," Justin pointed out.
"I'm relaxing you after a hard day dealing with relatives. It's like family therapy."
"Oh, therapy. I see." Justin gasped as he felt Brian's mouth on his cock. "Th...therapy is good! Really good!"
But Brian didn't say a word. He was too busy.
Pittsburgh, The Day After, November 2005
"Thanks for the ride."
Justin hopped out of the Corvette and checked his watch. The lunch shift was beginning in 10 minutes, so he had just enough time to change his clothes and get set up.
"No problem," said Brian. "I'll pick you up at 4:00."
Justin walked around to the driver's side as Brian rolled down the window. "Remember that I have to be back here for the dinner shift."
"I know." Brian wrinkled his nose in irritation. "Look, you don't need to do these fucking double shifts. We have enough money. You're wearing yourself out!"
Justin grinned. "The only thing worn out is my ass! Don't be such a worrywort. I can handle the double shifts. After all, I'm young and strong and full of pep!"
"Oh, is that what you're full of?" Brian raised an eyebrow. "I thought it was something else."
"Shut up!" He gave Brian a quick kiss through the window. "Hey, that tasted good. Give me another one." He kissed Brian again, longer and more lingeringly this time.
Brian smirked. "Won't they feed you at that cheap hash house, Sunshine?"
"Not the way you feed me," Justin whispered, reaching out for more.
But Brian pulled back reluctantly. "You better get in there before Clarence comes out and starts screaming at me for taking up space in his fucking parking lot."
"Okay," Justin nodded. "I'm working lunch tomorrow, but then I have the evening off so we can go to Michael's birthday party. I've already wrapped his present."
"Don't remind me," Brian grumped. "Parties at Stepford Terrace are always bad news. Didn't we have to suffer through the full court press from Deb last night? Now tomorrow we're going to be treated to a stomach-turning meal by Mikey and the Professor!"
"Mikey and the Professor -- wasn't that an old sitcom back in the 1970's?" Justin asked facetiously.
"No, it's a bad gay sitcom in 2005!" Brian replied. "I bet Zen Ben will dish up curry-encrusted brown rice and tofu casserole with green tea sauce. Yum! Get ready to party hearty!"
"None of the kind of stuff that Ben cooks is on your diet, Brian," Justin pointed out.
Brian sighed. This fucking diet would be the death of him. "Thanks for stating the obvious, Dr. Taylor. I'll end up having to bring my own food in a fucking plastic container like some fussy old hypochondriac queen! And no remarks about the fact that I already am a fussy old hypochondriac queen!"
"You said it, not me," Justin returned. "I've got to hustle. Bye now! I love you!"
"Yeah," said Brian. "Whatever. Move your ass!"
Brian waited until Justin was inside the Watermark before he pulled away. Now he was getting overly protective. It was fucking absurd. Pittsburgh wasn't exactly a fag's paradise, but it wasn't dangerous. Well, not too dangerous if you were careful. He was a fucking pussy where the kid was concerned. Afraid to let him out of his sight.
Stop it right now, Kinney! This obsessing has to end. You're not his daddy, sugar or otherwise. Justin is a grown man. He can take care of himself. You know that. So let him.
Brian revved the Vette's engine. It sounded rough. The car needed a tune-up, but he'd been putting it off. Well, let the new owner tune it up, whoever that might be. It was a fun ride, but sometimes you had to let the fun ride go. It was time to be practical. About time.
He drove the Vette downtown and pulled into the parking garage of a very familiar building. This wasn't going to be pleasant. But it was necessary. Very necessary.
"Brian," said Gardner Vance, ushering Brian to his private office and shutting the door behind them. His face wore a bland smile, but his voice was like ice. "To what do I owe this profound pleasure?"
Brian sat in the chair Vance offered and unzipped his leather jacket. "I know you don't want to chitchat with me any more than I want to chitchat with you, so I'll cut to the chase. I want to settle. I'm willing to take your last offer. Tell your lawyer to call my lawyer and I'll sign the papers as soon as we can work out the details."
Vance was truly surprised. He had been willing to bet that Brian would fight for his full share of the partnership until they nailed the lid on his coffin, yet here he was, throwing in the towel.
"Well, Brian, I shall do that immediately. But may I be so bold as to inquire what brought about this staggering change of mind?"
Typical of Vance to want all the gory details, Brian thought. But Gardner has never been one to win graciously and leave it at that.
"I've been offered a job at Larch, Keller, and Conway Associates in San Francisco. It's not a partnership, but it's a decent position and the money is good. So I've decided to cut my losses here and take it."
Vance frowned at his former partner. "Larch, Keller, and Conway? I've never heard of them."
Brian gritted his teeth. "That's because they're not an advertising agency. They're a public relations and consulting firm specializing in gay promotions. After three months of sending out feelers to every major ad agency in the country, I admit defeat. Congratulations! You've managed to make my name mud everywhere except in the gay community. So I'm not going to fight it anymore. Frankly, I'm tired of fighting. Tony Conway contacted me personally when he heard I was job-hunting. I worked with him on a big promotion Ryder did at the White Party in Miami six years ago. Conway thinks I got a raw deal from you -- and I agree. He thinks I'll do well in public relations -- and, again, I agree. It should be right up my alley, so to speak. Working there will give me a chance to rebuild my reputation in a gay-friendly city, far away from Jim fucking Stockwell, his Stormtroopers, and all of his 'Family Friendly' bullshit. And it's a chance for me to make a new start. So I'm going to take the offer. It's as simple as that."
"Well." Gardner stood up and went to his bar. "Would you like a drink?" he asked, pouring himself a large Canadian Club.
Brian wanted one -- badly. But his stomach gurgled. If he really developed a fucking ulcer, he'd send Vance the bill for his treatment!
"No, thanks. It's a little early for me."
Vance was surprised again. "I thought it was never too early for you, Brian. Cheers!" Vance lifted his glass and took a long sip.
He knew he should feel like celebrating, but the victory felt hollow. Yes, he'd driven his rival from the field in defeat, but he'd also lost his best ad man. Perhaps the best ad man in the East -- except for himself, of course. And Vangard was suffering as a result. Brown, Eyeconic, Remsen, Open Fire -- all of those had been Brian's accounts. And all were unhappy with the way their campaigns were going without him in charge. Dandy Lube had been so unhappy that they'd already taken their business elsewhere. And Leo Brown had asked him only a few days before when Brian was returning. He was impatient with the way Ken Wilson and Phil Millard were handling his account. The problem with Wilson and Millard was that they were competent, but that was all. They didn't have Brian's vision. Or Brian's balls. No one else at Vangard did. And the clients knew it.
"This may seen a strange thing to hear from me, Brian," Vance said carefully. "But I wish you'd reconsider the first offer I put on the table."
"And what offer was that?" Brian watched Gardner pace back and forth, the glass in his hand. He wasn't usually a nervous man, but today he was like a caged cat.
"The one that would allow you to come back here."
Brian closed his eyes. "No fucking way! After the way you've played me for the past few months? The way you left me hang up to dry because of fucking Mr. Sutton Diet and Fitness Centers? Smeared me all over the industry? And now you want me back? I like to get fucked, Gardner, but only on my own terms. And never without plenty of lube!"
"I made you my partner because I knew you were the best, Brian," Gardner conceded. "And you're still the best. You'll be wasting your talent in public relations. Especially when I need you here!"
Brian couldn't listen to this crap another second. He stood up. "You had me here! And you treated me like a flunky! Like just another fag! And in this town that means someone less than human. Maybe this job at Larch, Keller, and Conway isn't the be-all and end-all of my career aspirations, but at least they aren't raging homophobes! At least I'll be in a city where I'm not a freak. And at least I'll be working with people who'll respect me. And at this point in my life, that means a lot. But you'll never understand how much it means because you're not a queer."
Gardner Vance looked away as he downed the rest of his drink. "I'll call my lawyers on Monday."
"Thanks." Brian stood and zipped up his jacket. That was that. Time to get the fuck out of here.
"So," said Vance, unable to resist one last dig. "What about your little 'domestic partner'? What is his name? Justin? Are you planning to take your blond boytoy, Justin, with you to the West Coast? Or are you going stag? Are the hoards of potential sex partners out in San Francisco too tempting to pass up? Why drag yourself down with a clinging little significant other when you can be free as a bird among the glittering flocks of the City by the Bay?"
Brian stared at Vance. He really was a fucking asshole!
"Well?" Vance needled. He loved throwing Brian off-balance. It was the only time he was able to feel truly superior to him. Brian might be tall and handsome and desirable and talented, but Vance was still the boss, which was something Brian never would be if he had anything to say about it! "Or haven't you made up your mind yet? I bet you haven't even discussed this with him, have you? No, I can see by your face that you haven't. He'll probably wake up one morning and you'll have disappeared. Poof! Just like magic! Poor little boytoy!" Vance laughed bitterly.
"You know what, Gardner?" said Brian, his voice low and ominous.
"What?" Vance replied, smiling like a snake.
"Typical," Vance huffed.
"Oh," Brian added. "And Happy Thanksgiving!"
Then he turned and walked out.
Pittsburgh, November 2005
"Thank God Mikey doesn't have a birthday for another year!" Brian pulled off his sweater and tossed it across the bedroom. "I don't think I could take hearing him squee over another fucking comic book when he has five million of them in his fucking store!"
"He's a fan, Brian," said Justin as he undressed. "That's what fans do."
"Fuck fans." Brian flopped down on the bed and yawned. "It's pathetic."
"I bet you wouldn't say that if Patrick Swayze walked in that door," Justin pointed out. "I bet you'd be reduced to a breathless, stuttering, awe-struck fanboy."
"Think again, Sunshine," Brian replied. "I'd shake his hand and say, 'How do you do, Mr. Swayze? I have admired your work...'"
"And your pecs -- and your ass -- and your cock," Justin added.
"'... your WORK for many years now. I'm very pleased to meet you.'" Brian grinned. "Then I'd throw him on this bed and have his dick out of his pants before he had time to say 'thank you'! But he'd definitely say 'thank you' after I finished with him!"
Justin burst into laughter. "You are so predictable, Brian! That's what I love about you!"
Maybe not so predictable, Brian thought. Maybe I'm still capable of surprising him. And surprising myself, too.
"Watching Michael demolish that birthday cake was a little disconcerting," said Justin, sitting at the edge of bed to take off his socks. "I thought he was going to stick his whole head in it!"
"If Hunter didn't fucking beat him to it. And I thought you liked food. Compared to Michael and Hunter, you're practically anorectic!"
"You know, I think Hunter might be jumping back over to our team," Justin commented.
"What makes you say that?" asked Brian. "Michael told me the kid has pictures of bimbos with over-inflated breasts all over his bedroom wall."
"Maybe by the way he was looking at you all evening." Justin stretched out next to Brian on the bed. "You know -- that 'I want you to fuck me' look."
"It's not unfamiliar to me," Brian conceded.
Justin stared intently into his face. "Is that so?"
Brian smiled. "You never get enough. I like that in you."
"And I like THIS in me." He took Brian's cock firmly in his hand. "I really wanted you to fuck me in Michael and Ben's fancy powder room."
Brian sniffed. "Someone needs to fuck in that room -- or fuck it up. All that pink fake fur and shiny wallpaper! I thought I'd landed in Barbie's Dream House."
"Emmett said Debbie picked out the wallpaper." Justin began slowly stroking Brian.
"That figures!" Brian sighed. "What the fuck is it with Deb and hideous wallpaper?"
"I don't know," Justin shrugged. "I think she likes anything colorful."
"Then she should put mirrors all over the house and look at herself," said Brian. "I think her hair has gotten redder since she married Carl. I kind of thought she'd tone it down, but I was proven wrong once again."
"You're never wrong," whispered Justin.
Brian's cock was getting hard now and Justin moved to take care of it.
But Brian put his hand down to stop him. "Wait a minute."
"Wait?" Justin frowned. "What for?"
"I need to talk to you about something."
Justin blinked in disbelief. "You're postponing a blowjob in order to talk? Are you feeling all right? I bought a thermometer while you were in the hospital. Let me get it and take your temperature!"
"I'm not sick! And I don't need my fucking temperature taken!" Brian insisted. "But this is important." He licked his lips, unsure of how to begin. "Yesterday, after I dropped you off at work, I went to see Gardner Vance."
"But you said you were going to hit the mall on the biggest shopping day of the year!" Justin replied.
"I know. But I went to Vangard instead."
"So that's it," said Justin. "I wondered why you didn't buy anything. That's not like you, Brian. I mean, to go shopping and not buy even a pair of socks. Or a new suit. Or a complete line of new kitchen appliances. Or..."
Brian put his hand over Justin's mouth. "Will you shut the fuck up for two minutes while I say this? And don't interrupt!"
Justin bit his lip. "Okay. I'm listening."
"Anyway, I told Vance that I wanted to settle with him. So I'm taking his last offer. End of story."
Justin tried to keep his face blank. He knew this was a major decision for Brian. But he also knew this wasn't the end of the story. There had to be more. "I'm still listening."
Brian cleared his throat. "I accepted the settlement because I've been offered a job at another firm. A public relations firm. In San Francisco."
"In San Francisco?" Justin repeated.
"San Francisco," Brian confirmed. "And I'm going to take it."
"You've taken a job in San Francisco," Justin stated. The more he said it, the more real it became.
"Yes. I start after the first of the year."
This was big. Bigger than he'd imagined. The biggest, in fact. Justin swallowed. "Is... is there anything else you want to tell me, Brian?" He paused. "Or ask me?"
"Well." Brian moved his tongue around inside his mouth, as if the words were hidden in his cheek and he was probing for them. "Yeah, but... I... I mean that... See, it's like this..."
"Do you want me to go to San Francisco with you, Brian?" Justin asked simply.
"Yes," he replied in relief. "I want you to go to San Francisco with me."
Justin abruptly got off the bed.
"Where are you going?" Brian frowned.
Justin went to the closet and brought out his gym bag. Then he opened the bottom drawer of the dresser where his stuff was and pulled out one pair of briefs and a single white tee shirt. Then he took out a sweater and a folded pair of cargo pants. He shoved them all into the gym bag. Then he walked down to the dining room table and got his sketchpad and box of pencils. He returned to the bedroom and slipped them into the bag with the clothes.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Brian asked.
"Packing," Justin said, zipping up the bag. "There. I'm done."
Justin faced his lover. "This is all I need. I'm ready to go. Ready to follow you anywhere, any time, any place. All you had to do was ask me. But you already knew the answer. Didn't you?"
Brian cast his eyes down. Justin thought he looked impossibly young. Impossibly beautiful. "I wasn't sure."
"Then be sure." Justin lay back down on the bed next to Brian. "Never doubt it. I mean that. Because I fucking love you! Get that through your thick skull!"
"You're a brutal, brutal taskmaster, Sunshine." Brian smiled slowly. "I like that in a bossy twink."
"You better believe it," said Justin. "Now... where was I?"
"My cock." Brian indicated his burgeoning erection.
"Ah, yes," Justin laughed. "The fundamental things in life."
"Always," Brian agreed. "Something to be thankful for."
"Yes," said Justin. "Thankful."
©Gaedhal, March 2007.
Posted November 5, 2007.