UP TO ZERO

"A Queer As Folk USA FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Page 2 of Chapter 10 of the "Queer Realities" series.

Go back to Page 1 of "Up to Zero".

By the time I make the toast and pour the coffee, Brian is sitting at the counter on one of the stools. He's wearing the same ratty pair of jeans he was wearing last night and nothing else. Beautiful bleary green eyes, hair wet and hanging all over his face, and jeans falling off his hips. In other words, he looks so hot that I want him to throw me down across the counter, take the skin of my neck between his teeth, and fuck me so vigorously that all the wine glasses are shaken right off the shelf. But I can't let him know that's what I'm thinking about. I've got to play the hard guy here. I have to.

"Brian," I begin softly. "I'm only going to ask once, so I expect you to give me a straight answer." His eyes dart around like he wants to look anywhere but directly at me. I take a deep breath. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"I knew you'd ream me out, Sunshine," he whispers. His fingers are trembling as they clutch the mug of black coffee with about a pound of sugar in it.

"I'm not reaming you out, Brian," I reply. "I just want to know. You scared the piss out of me last night, you know that?"

"I'm sorry, Justin." He picks up the piece of toast as if he's going to take a bite, but then he sets it back down.

"Sorry is bullshit, Brian -- to quote the Master." I touch his hand. "Just tell me!"

He looks down at his unsipped cup. "What's to tell? I jumped rehab."

"Well, duh!" I say. "I can see that! The real question is why, Brian? I thought everything was okay there. Tess told me that she went to see you and you were doing fine. Which pisses me off, by the way. How come SHE gets to visit and you sent ME back to Pittsburgh?"

Brian shrugs. "She just showed up. How the fuck do I know? She's a big contributor, so I guess that's why they let her in, Justin. I was shocked to see her there."

"Okay," I answer. "I believe you. So, tell me, Brian, Tess said you were fine when she saw you on Monday. But you ran out on Tuesday! What really happened at Haven of Hope after Tess was there? Why did you leave?"

"I... I wasn't fine, Justin. Nothing was fine!" he barks. "And I couldn't stay there anymore, Justin. I just couldn't!" Brian drops his head into his hands. "It was worse than a fucking prison! At least in jail they only want to punish you, but in THAT fucking place they... they wanted to break me down. To change me."

"Maybe that's how they try to help you, Brian -- by changing your destructive behavior," I say, gently, repeating what Dr. Lorenz had told me and Tess when we dropped Brian off at Haven of Hope the day after we returned to Los Angeles from Maui.

"No! They weren't trying to change my behavior, Justin. They were trying to change ME!" Brian insists. "Trying to make me into something unrecognizable. Someone I wouldn't want to KNOW, let alone BE. I mean, they wouldn't even let me have my own shampoo! Or soap! 'The soap we have in the bathroom areas is satisfactory for all, Brian.' That's what the fucker said to me! 'But what about my SKIN?' I asked him. 'Your skin is not important in the larger scheme of things,' he said. Yeah, not important to HIM, the ugly bastard! What the fuck does HE care?"

I want to laugh at Brian's vanity, but I don't. Because I know it's about more than that. It's about his identity and his sense of who he is. He has to take care of himself, or he doesn't feel like Brian. And, let's face it, he's an actor and looking good and looking young IS important in Hollywood. You would think they would be aware of that in some upscale place in Malibu that caters to damaged celebrities. Or... maybe that's why they do it.

"Brian, I know this isn't about soap or shampoo. What is it really about? You can tell me." I stop and make him look at me. "If you can't tell me, then who?"

Brian takes another deep breath. "From the minute I got in there I could tell that they hated that I was a faggot. I could just sense it. And it wasn't paranoia, either, Justin. It was real. The guy who was my counselor, Skip, is an ex-heroin addict who 'made good' and is part of the program full time. He's like a member of a fucking cult! And they want YOU to be a member, too! That's their real goal. It IS!"

I hate to be skeptical about the homophobia and the cult-like atmosphere at Haven, but I have to be. Haven of Hope was the most highly recommended place that Tess looked into. Tons of famous people have gone to rehab there. So I have to be blunt. "Brian, don't be a drama queen."

"I'm not being a fucking drama queen, Justin!" he retorts. "I mean it! The second Skip shook my hand I KNEW he was a fucking homophobe. Like he could hardly wait to wipe off the touch of my hand. And some of the comments he made just proved it! About me and my fucking 'lifestyle.' About Ron. And about... you...." Brian pauses and sighs.

I frown. "What kind of comments, Brian?"This is not what I was expecting to hear. Not anything about me. What do I have to do with anything?

"For instance, in group therapy -- everything at Haven is a group thing, you never have any fucking privacy! -- I mentioned something about being sick of being treated like an infant and watched all the time and not trusted. And they ALL jumped on me -- the counselors and the other addicts -- and told me that an addict can NEVER be trusted. That no one should trust me again -- ever. So I told them that my partner trusts me -- unconditionally."

I can feel my hear pounding. I'm so glad to hear Brian say that he knows that. And that he believes it. That it has finally gotten through that gorgeous, thick skull of his! "And it's true, Brian. I DO trust you -- and love you -- unconditionally."

"I know," he says simply. "But then Skip says, 'You like to make everything into a big dramatic moment, don't you, Brian? Everything has to be about YOU, the rich, famous actor. Well in here you're nothing. You're just an addict and a drunk, like everybody else. It's OUR job to make you understand that.'" Brian glances at me sadly. "And he also said that it was his job to help me cut myself loose from all those behaviors that made me an addict and a drunk. And to cut myself off from all those people who let me get away with being an addict and a drunk. All those enablers -- like my 'so-called partner.' That's how he put it! My 'so-called partner'! That really made me fucking furious!"

I swallow. "Wh... what did he mean, Brian? 'Cut you loose from all those behaviors' and 'cut you off from all those people?'? What does that mean exactly?"

Brian looks directly at me. His green eyes don't look bleary anymore. "They told me that I should sell the house and the cars and my boat. That I should get rid of all my possessions. Because they were meaningless. That I should throw out old letters, old photographs -- anything that was part of my 'old life.' Especially anything having to do with Ron...." His voice catches and he stares down at the counter. "Or you."

I go all cold inside. "But... why me? I can understand them not wanting you to obsess over... over Ron and the past... but why ME? What do they mean?"

"They told me to break it off with you, Justin," he says bluntly. "Skip told me to destroy any gifts you gave me. To... to burn any photographs of us together. They said that I shouldn't even read your letters when they came. That... that I should cut you off completely. That's what they said."

"Why?" I whisper, devastated.

"Because you're my 'enabler,' Justin," he states. "My relationship with Ron 'proved' that I was a shallow queer and, like all queers, I am incapable of having any deep feelings for anyone. And that my relationship with YOU just confirms that diagnosis. I'm only interested in my own narcissistic need for attention and drama -- and that you feed that need."

"That's not true at all!" I blurt out.

But Brian stops me. His eyes are shining with anger. "This was after I spilled my fucking guts to the entire gang, telling them about my parents and the Bowery and then about you and the Prom. After I told them about everything!" Brian clenches his teeth. "But they didn't give a shit! They didn't care how much crap I've gone through in my fucking life. Or how much pain you and I have suffered together. To them, it was all my 'narcissism' and my need to be the center of the universe. That's why I became an actor, Skip said, to feed my ego. That's why... why Ron killed himself." Brian's voice dips to a whisper. "Ron offed himself in... in a last-ditch attempt to get my attention. And that's why he said I'm with you -- to feed my ego with a pretty young boy when I'm... I'm just an ageing fag."

I can't fucking believe what I'm hearing! I don't know anything about these rehab programs -- except that they are supposed to shake you up and make you change. But this seems pretty extreme, even for shaking things up. "Maybe that's just... I don't know, Brian -- shock therapy? Trying to get you to react. Trying to get a rise out of you so that you'll understand what's important. I'm sure they didn't really mean what they said about Ron... or me."

"No, Justin," he replies firmly. "They DID mean it. They told one woman that she should divorce her husband because he was her enabler. I heard Skip tell her and the Group all agreed. And she... she called and told the guy she was divorcing him! She came back and told the Group and they all applauded and congratulated her on doing the right thing! I couldn't fucking believe it!"

I can't believe it, either. This sounds like total bullshit! Why would they do that? How does that help a person with their addiction?

Brian moves his tongue around in his mouth, like he's searching for the right words. "They also told me never to come back to Pittsburgh. Ever. That the 'roots of my addiction' were here. That I should never see Michael again, or Deb, or Vic. That they were 'toxic.' And they told me that I should get out of my son's life until I was 'mature' enough to be a good influence on him -- maybe in 5 or 6 years."

I'm mad now. "They said that the best thing for your son was to get out of his life? How could they say that? Have they grown up without a father? That's such bullshit, Brian! We both know it's bullshit!"

He looks at me, and I can see the hurt on his face. "And that's not all. They said I should break it off with you. That was the number one thing that Skip and the gang all insisted on. Then Skip told me that when I was 'rid' of you and my mind was 'clear,' then I could think in a 'normal' manner. Then I would see that being a queer is just part of my self-destructive behavior and desire for attention. My need to 'pretend' to be an 'outlaw' and to go against the 'good' of society. Then I wouldn't 'need' to 'choose' to be a faggot anymore -- I could be a normal and upstanding citizen!"

My whole body feels numb at what Brian is telling me. "He didn't say that, Brian! That you're 'choosing' to be gay because you're rebelling against society? Your counselor told you that? I can't believe it!"

Brian looks me straight in the eyes. "Yes, he told me that, Justin. And so did Dr. Lorenz -- except he used more psychological bullshit jargon. That me 'choosing' to be homosexual was a 'manifestation' of the lack of love from my parents. That this rebellion was a 'validation of my feelings of low self esteem.' Blah blah fucking blah! That's the pitch I got there 24/7, from the minute they woke me up at 6:00 a.m. until lights out at 9:00. That I was a worthless piece of shit -- not only for my addictions, but because of my sexuality. I told you, Justin -- I'd rather be in prison than go back to Haven of fucking Hope! At least I'd get fucked in prison!"

"Jesus, Brian." I stare at my own cup of coffee. It's also untouched. I don't know what else to say to him, except that I probably would have bailed on the place, too. In fact, it amazes me that Brian stuck it out for almost two weeks. That tells me that he was trying, but he couldn't deal with it in the end. And I don't blame him. It's like he's been psychologically assaulted every single day that he was there. Just for being who he is and loving the way he does. But why should that surprise me, after what I've been through in my own life? I guess I'm still so fucking naive!

"Those letters you sent me, Justin," Brian continues. "I wasn't allowed to read them alone. Skip always opened them and read them first. And then he would sit there and watch me while I read them. I fucking hated him looking at me, knowing what I was reading! Knowing... what you'd poured into those letters. And knowing that he was judging me and you for what you had written. I felt violated... and I felt that you were being violated too. And I couldn't even warn you, Justin. I'm sorry about that."

I feel a twist inside, but smile at him sadly. "That's okay, Brian. I would have written those letters anyway, even if I knew. Those letters were for you. Not for him. It doesn't matter that he read them."

Brian nods at me and then continues. "Skip also read the ones from Deb and Vic and from Tim, too. And Michael sent me a package... some comic books. They wouldn't let me have them. Skip said they were an example of 'juvenile thinking.'" Brian looks down, blinking. "But please don't tell Mikey that. He would be fucking crushed. I mean, even in the Kensington-Welsh Center -- that nut house I was in after I came back from New York -- they let me have his comic books. And a couple of books to read. But that isn't allowed at Haven of Hope. Reading is 'isolating' -- something you do alone -- and so it isn't permitted."

"I'm so sorry, Brian." I can't even begin to imagine Brian in that place. And Tess and I took him there! We made it clear that he HAD to succeed there, that he couldn't fail, no matter what! That's what Brian felt he had to do. Succeed. And now he's failed. Again.

"Tess coming to see me was a fluke, Justin. I'm certain they only let her see me because she's a big spokeswoman for a lot of causes and they want to get on her good side so she'll do a fund raiser for them. The others weren't allowed any visitors at all, so after she came Skip and the others in my Group let me know that I shouldn't imagine I was some fucking privileged character just because someone was allowed to visit me. And I was so fucking brain-washed about finishing The Program that I pretended everything was great when I saw her. Just great. What I really wanted to do was to scream for her to get me out of there! But I could not admit to Tessthat I couldn't deal with The Program. I just couldn't. Then Tess went to the bathroom. She was only gone about 5 minutes -- but it was long enough for me to open up her purse and... and steal one of her credit cards. She has even more cards than I do! I figured that she wouldn't miss it."

I sigh. So, that's how he got here. On Tess' credit card. "Where's the card now, Brian?"

"In my jacket. It's a VISA card. I took a page right from the Justin Taylor Manual for Running Away -- with a little bit of 'Jack' tossed in as well. I hid the card in my sock. That's where I always hid the money from Stan back on the Bowery. See? The skills you learn as a youth DO come in handy." He smiles, but it's such a sad smile. "This other guy, Ernie, and I were on dishwashing duty on Tuesday after dinner and I knew the back door would be open. I hid my jacket in a plastic garbage bag and then waited for my chance. Ernie saw what I was doing and he went right along with me. We walked straight out the back door and climbed down onto the beach. I didn't have any shoes, but that didn't matter. I would have walked over broken glass to get my ass out of there."

Brian takes a sip of the coffee and makes a face. It's cold. I think of his beautiful feet and how torn up they are now. That's the price he paid to get away from that place. And back to me.

"After a mile or so, we walked up to the main road and hitched into L.A. I found a money machine and I used the VISA card to get some cash. Guessing Tess' PIN number was the easiest part of the whole escapade. ANNE for Annie. Jimmy's is TESS. I've watched him get out cash plenty of times. People are so fucking naive! So I called Trans-Con Airways and made a reservation for a First Class ticket to the Pitts... and then...." Brian looks up and snorts. "You don't want to know the rest."

"Yes, Brian," I say. "I do want to know the rest."

"Ernie took the cash and bought some dope and a bottle of Jim Beam and we went to an apartment where a friend of his lived. I just used a little of the dope because I knew I needed to be conscious in order to make it to the airport and onto the plane." Brian pauses and pokes his tongue into his cheek. "Okay, maybe I had more than just a little of the dope." He pauses again. "Okay, I got fucked up. Fucked up badly. And I... I missed the flight. I woke up the next day -- or maybe it was the day after. I don't even know what day it was. But I knew I had to get the fuck out of there right then or I'd never get away. I knew I had to drag myself out to LAX and get on a plane. Oh, but I had to buy some shoes first. I bought them on the street, from some vendor. All the fashionable addicts favor plastic pumps."

And then Brian stops, waiting for me to ream him out. But I don't. I just can't. I don't know that I can fault him at all. "Go ahead, Brian. I'm still listening."

"Ernie and I said our fond farewells and I hit the streets, took out some more cash, and got a cab for LAX. They found me a seat on the red-eye for that night and I waited around the airport, mainly in the bar. On the plane they recognized me and the male First Class attendant just kept bringing me whatever I wanted to drink. I looked like a fucking street person, but I'm sure they're used to movie stars coming on board looking like refugees. They probably thought I was Johnny Depp! By the time we landed in the Pitts I was feeling no fucking pain at all."

"I bet." I've seen the treatment a celebrity gets in First Class. Especially from a gay steward who is playing up to Brian!

"But when I got off the plane I... I just couldn't go to the loft. I knew I was fucked up and that you'd be... be so fucking disappointed in me." Brian looks at me again. "Almost as disappointed as I was in myself. I was a fucking mess, so I went to the Baths. I ended up falling asleep in the cubicle. By the time I woke up a couple of hours later I... I was horny and I needed to get numb again. Of course, at the Baths it isn't hard to take care of either of those problems. Then one of the tricks offered to drop me off somewhere. It was dark outside and I wasn't wearing a watch, of course, so I told him to take me to Babylon. And you know the rest. Michael and Emmett must have seen me come in. I was on the dance floor and Mikey came over and started bitching at me. I couldn't fucking deal with him, so I headed for the backroom. He followed me and... and I pushed him away. I mean, I guess I pushed him a little too hard, because he ended up on his ass. He got up and left. The next thing I sort of remember is YOU -- dragging me out of there. And then waking up here in the loft. That's all."

I squeeze my cold cup of coffee in frustration. "Brian, do you remember blanking out? Emmett said you must have taken some Special K. That you were in a 'K hole' -- that's what Em called it. Do you remember that, Brian? You were just... vacant! Staring into space and not saying anything! That scared the shit out of me! You were like that for almost an hour!"

"Christ," he says. "No, I... I don't remember clearly. Some guy on the dance floor had the K -- I think. I hadn't taken any in ages. Maybe that's why it hit me so hard." Brian nods. "See, Sunshine, I've always said don't take drugs from people you don't know." And he laughs that high, hysterical little laugh.

"It's not funny, Brian," I say, trying to control my voice, which isn't easy because I'm feeling THIS close to being out of control completely! "I understand why you jumped rehab and I even sort of understand why you fell off the wagon, although I think it's a totally fucked up reason!" I take his face into my hands and force him to look into my eyes. I want him to know how serious I am. "Brian, listen to me -- I don't fucking care WHAT condition you're in or how mad or disappointed you think I might be -- you come HOME first. Maybe I WILL be angry or hurt or whatever, but at least you'll be here and you'll be safe. So promise me, okay? Promise right now, Brian!" I grab his hand and squeeze it tightly. Tight enough so he doesn't bolt away, out of my reach, ever again.

"All right, I promise!" he yelps. "Don't fucking break my fingers! I promise. As long as you promise that you won't make me go back to Haven of Hell!"

"I guarantee that, Brian. You're NOT going back there." And I mean it. I don't care what Tess says, or Howie Sheldon and the studio, or even the police. It's what WE want that matters now!

I pick up the useless cups of coffee and the uneaten toast and dump them in the sink. Then I gather him in my arms and hold him close to me. His arms come around me and he rests his head on my shoulder. I know that I'll do anything that I have to do to protect Brian from going through something like that again. I SWEAR it! Then I take hold of Brian's hand again and lead him back to bed, where we stay for the rest of the day.

Continue on to "High on Sunday".

©Gaedhal, March 2004.

Posted March 29, 2004.