COUP DE GRACE
When they pulled into downtown St.Louis in the pre-dawn stillness, the car radio was blasting a song older than they were, Spencer Davis’s “Give Me Some Lovin’”. They were rocking on to the beat as they drove past the tall silver arch spanning the bank of the Mississippi River and pulled into the circular drive of a nearby hotel. Giddy with fatigue, the sheer silliness of the trip and cabin fever, Brian gave Justin a little spin, just like they did at the prom, as a stoic bellman loaded their bags onto a cart.
Justin laughed, kissed his lover, and held his hand as they checked in at the front desk. “We already fucked up Teddy’s carefully planned schedule for us, Brian,” he observed as they rode up twelve floors in an otherwise empty elevator.
Brian shrugged, inhaling the slightly stale scent of a smoking floor as they exited. “Look, as I told Ted, he doesn’t run my personal life. Our only rule is we have to be in L.A. in time for the premiere. Anything else we do, we do. Fuck the rest of them.”
They used the key card to enter a room overlooking the arch. A king-sized bed beckoned and Justin fell back on it as Brian tipped the bellman, and joined his lover on the bed after hanging the DND sign on the door. “Too tired to undress, too tired to fuck, too tired to suck, too tired,” he said with a groan and Justin glanced at him and smiled.
“I can change that.”
Brian raised himself on one elbow to glare at him. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“Softly,” Justin said, loosening Brian’s clothes and infusing him with an energy he didn’t know he had. Nine hours later, Brian awoke to sunlight streaming into the room, Jerry Springer and his usual white trash lineup on the television, and Justin coming from the bathroom, still damp from a shower and wrapped in a hotel robe. Brian frowned, turned off the noise and said,
Justin had been trying to put some weight on Brian since the cancer treatments scaled down his already lean body, so whenever he expressed any interest in food, his lover encouraged it. He showed him the room service menu and then ordered their choices as Brian glanced at the clock and at Justin.
“I should probably call the office,” he said.
“Fuck that,” Justin responded with a glare. “We’re on vacation. They know your number. If they have a big problem, they’ll find you.”
“We’re talking about resting my fate with Theodore, Justin.”
“No, we’re talking about resting your fate with Cynthia.”
They both laughed. “Good point.”
Justin snuggled into Brian’s arms, and Brian inhaled the scent of his freshly shampooed hair as he closed his eyes and allowed himself to feel content. They held each other, quietly, not even progressing to sex or finding it necessary to talk. They just enjoyed the simple pleasure of being close to someone that mattered until the arrival of the food interrupted them.
Outside, in the crisp fall air an hour later, waiting for the car to be brought around, Brian said, “So, where are we going, exactly?”
Justin shrugged. “We’re just going to drive around the city to see it, then we go to Union Station, they have lots of shops there, and finally tonight we can have dinner in LaClede’s Landing where we can also hit some clubs, and then we leave in the morning. Right?”
“Whatever you say,” Brian said, lighting a cigarette. He scowled as Justin leveled his nifty digital camera at him. “Would you cut that the fuck out, paparazzi?”
Justin laughed. “Get used to it, you’re with a staaaaaah now!”
“How soon I forget.”
As they left the fringe of buildings nearest the wide lip of the Mississippi, they found block after block of boarded up and abandoned businesses. “Did they drop a bomb on this town?” Brian finally observed and Justin sighed.
“Economic flight. Another legacy of the last gasp of the Republicans. Give Kerry time.”
Brian shrugged. “The countdown’s begun. He’d better fix it. All the money I gave his campaign had better not have been a waste.”
The urban depression continued until they left the central city and headed down the highway, past the park, admiring the natural beauty of trees turning red for fall and the more gracious homes in the bedroom communities flanking the city. They never found Union Station. Instead, they diverted to University City with blocks of funky shops and spent some time in an apothecary store devoted to the charms, potions, herbs and other artifacts associated with serious witchcraft.
Brian laughed as Justin shook a voodoo doll in his face. “Please take that pin out of my one remaining ball.”
A pretty woman with long, gypsy black hair and colorful skirts worn with an off the shoulder blouse took Brian’s arm and said, “May I tell your fortune?”
“Mysterious Marilyn,” Justin whispered with a laugh and she gazed at him.
“My name is Maggie. And you’re a Scorpio.”
Justin winced. She was right. That was weird. “Do it, Brian.”
“I don’t believe in that crap.”
“Then you have nothing to fear,” she taunted him. “It’s only fifteen dollars plus any gratuity you feel inclined to offer. How bad can it be?”
“Do him,” Brian nodded towards Justin, but she shook her head.
“His future is clear. Yours needs some direction.”
Justin laughed. “She already sussed you out. Are you chicken?”
Brian glared at him and said, “Fine, let’s go.”
Justin started to follow, but she stopped him. “You can’t come in. Your aura interferes with his.”
“No shit,” Brian said with a laugh and Justin said he would meet him in the vintage vinyl store next door as she led Brian through beaded curtains to a small room with candles lighting the atmosphere and a gold-fringed cloth covering the table. She handed him a deck of oversized cards and said, “Shuffle three times and cut.”
He felt like an idiot as he did so, and turned up a man surrounded by golden goblets. “The King of Cups, your significator. An apt choice. This represents a maturing love, a determined lover. ”
She began to deal other cards, a few at a time, face up, in a cross pattern. “Where your significator appears suggests you have survived a crossroads and you’re determined to take charge, of your life, and more importantly, of your love, to commit to a shared future.”
Brian chuckled. “You must have me mixed up with a lesbian.”
She turned up the death card, a skeleton on horseback, and Brian felt a chill. She looked up at him and said, “Don’t fear this card. As it sits in this pattern, it represents that you were brought low, only to rise again as the sun is rising behind the rider. This represents you are rising to your highest peak after having reached your nadir.”
More cards turn, and then a card labeled, “Strength”. She said, “The message here is to never give up. Have courage that you will succeed. This card tells you that you can control many things, but not all. You must manage your anger and your impulses, and it tells you that you have a steadfast friend and companion who deserves your trust.”
Each card had a story and then she turned over “Lovers” as the last card. “This card tells you that you have come across the one person without whom you will never be complete. You must choose this person you are so strongly drawn to, no matter how frightened that makes you. No matter how irrational it seems. No matter how difficult. If you don’t, you will always be half a man.”
Brian leaned back with a scowl as she said, “Finally, looking at the layout in it’s entirety, you are being watched by a benevolent spirit, one who loves you, but one who is tasked with watching over you through a difficult time in your life, and who can never be at peace until he believes you’re on the right path to bring ultimate happiness into your life.”
Brian shook his head, completely freaked by the close association between reality and the fortune she read for him. And then she said, “The cancer is cured. You won’t be troubled with it again. You’re through that valley.”
“Who…” he started to say and she smiled.
“I don’t know where it comes from, I just tell you what I see.”
Justin plopped down in the chair next to Brian’s in Starbucks and took a sip of his mocha frappe. “Were you going to just let me wander around until I ran into you?”
Brian seemed to emerge from a trance. “Huh? Oh, you know where the car is. I figured we’d find each other eventually.”
Justin’s smile faded. He covered Brian’s hand with his as he asked, “Did she tell you something terrible?”
Brian shrugged. “Define terrible. No, she didn’t tell me I was doomed, Justin. Relax. It’s all bullshit anyway.”
“Then why do you look so pale?”
“Tired, I guess.” Brian looked at the blond as if he had never seen him before. He stared at his youthful features, his smooth, flawless skin, his too-blue eyes and he sighed. “You could do better, you know.”
Justin shrugged. “I know.”
“I love you. What can I say? I’m stuck with you. From the moment you told me you could change all that for me, you did, Brian. I loved you that first night, although you thought it was infatuation, and maybe it was, a little. I had my shadow of doubt, more than once, as you did everything you could to push me away. But I always loved you, I always missed you, I always wished we were together when we weren’t. And when I found out about your illness and realized something bigger than your own fear could separate us for good, something beyond our control, I knew. I knew I would make the most of every minute I had with you, no matter how much you resist your own feelings for me. There’s no one else for me, Brian. And there never will be.”
Brian tried to smile, but those muscles weren’t working as he reached for Justin and pulled him into his arms. “I love you,” he silently mouthed the words into his pale hair and Justin tightened the embrace as if he had heard him.
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July 25, 2004