BETWEEN THE SESSIONS
Boxes were piled upon boxes, stacked beside boxes, next to emptied boxes. These cardboard cubes littered the floor and every open surface in Brian's orderly loft. Justin was moving in. The chaos was distressing to a man who demanded that his environment be carefully controlled. He didn't remember Justin having this much junk. Where was it all going to go? How would it affect the balance of his décor? In the midst of this misery, the buzzer rang, and Brian answered it, leaving Justin to his unpacking.
"Yeah?" He said gruffly, expecting no one and prepared to turn away any forgotten boxes retrieved by the delivery service.
"Brian, it's Lindsay. Buzz me in."
"Lindz?" He said with surprise. "I'll meet you there and bring you up."
Dressed only in a wife beater and faded jeans, his feet bare, Brian took the stairs. That route was faster than the creaky freight elevator, and he winced at the chill blast of air as he opened the front door to Lindsay, Melanie and Gus. "Daddy!" Gus beamed, reaching for Brian, who took him into his arms and swung him around until he squealed with delight. At two, Gus was much heavier than Brian remembered. He squirmed to get down, no longer content to be held. Brian held to him anyway as he escorted them into the elevator. The women seemed tense. "Things are a little hectic," he said, giving Lindsay a belated kiss and smiling wanly at Melanie. "Justin's shit arrived today and the place is a mess."
"I'm so glad you and Justin put it back together, Brian," Lindsay said with an earnest smile. "We'll miss him, but it's so much the right thing for you two." Gus watched the floors creep by through the open slats of the elevator and giggled when they arrived. Brian pulled open the gates.
"Deja vue," Melanie remarked as he slid open the metal door of the loft. She was referring to his place in Pittsburgh. Once they entered, she realized how wrong she was.
"My god, Brian! It's huge and gorgeous!" Lindsay remarked as he put Gus down. The baby stood there for a minute, getting his bearings, then spotted Justin and ran to greet him with the toddling gait of a walker not yet fully acclimated to his legs. Justin scooped him up for his second spin of the day, and then came over to greet the women.
For the first time, Brian realized the only luggage they had was Gus's oversized diaper bag and a colorful roll aboard suitcase that was used for his things. He slouched on the leather sofa, watching Justin chase Gus around the boxes as Gus laughed. Two kids, he thought to himself. Both mine. He suppressed a smile and glanced at the women. They stood together tensely, and then Lindsay said,
"Something's come up."
"Go on," he prompted, and Melanie slipped her hand in Lindsay's as she continued.
"Friends of ours suddenly got word that they were given the use of a house in the Hampton's for a long weekend. They've invited several of us to join them."
"Not exactly beach weather," Brian remarked, gazing out the window at the promise of sleet. Maybe even snow.
"We're not going there for the beach, Brian," Melanie said. "It's strictly for recreation, the camaraderie of women together and..."
He held up his hand to stop her. "Please. You're filing my head with images of muncher orgies. I'll never get hard again."
"That'll be the day," Justin quipped and Brian tossed a ball of packing paper at him.
"Enough from the peanut gallery," he returned his attention to the women. "So, ladies, I congratulate you on your lesbo retreat. What does any of this have to do with me?"
Melanie exchanged a sidelong glance with Lindsay, who said, "We were going to bring Gus with us, then Mel thought you may want to spend a little time with him. Since we were so close, we decided to just stop by and ask."
Brian reached into his jeans pocket and removed his tiny cell phone. "Ever heard of these? Remarkable invention. They really work. They can be used to give people advance warning."
"It was spur of the moment, Brian," Lindsay said, and Melanie frowned.
"If you don't want him, fine. We just thought since you haven't seen him in awhile, you may want to spend some time with your own son. However, we should have realized he would be an unwelcome intrusion into your perfect little life."
Lindsay tried to quiet her with a gentle squeeze of her hand, but Brian just smiled slightly.
"Yeah, you can see how perfect my life is right now. It's like living in the storage room of the Big Q. Don't get your balls in an uproar, Mel; I didn't say I wouldn't like to spend time with Gus. But don't yank my dick. This has fuck-all to do with your wanting to give me time with my son. This has to do with you guys wanting to be alone to lick and tickle or do whatever the fuck you munchers do to each other at these lesbianic fuck fests. So let's be real clear about that."
"That would describe your experience in the Hampton's, Brian, not ours," Melanie huffed. He shrugged.
"If you say so, Mel. When will you be back? I have a big meeting on Monday. I can't babysit."
"I can, if you decide to stay over!" Justin volunteered, ignoring Brian's withering glare. Justin was on his hands and knees now, eye level with Gus, who was entertaining him with an empty box.
"We'll be back to pick him up Tuesday," Lindsay said, and Brian shrugged.
"Tell you what. I'll make a deal with you."
"What kind of deal?" Melanie asked suspiciously. Brian ignored her.
"Not you, her. If I keep Gus all weekend, I want you to go somewhere with me on Tuesday, Lindz. I want you to talk to my shrink, Lydia."
"You have a shrink?" The two asked in unison.
He nodded. "Yes, I know. Long overdue. I wouldn't want you to stay long, but she wants to interview people close to me. She's had a couple meetings with Justin. Since you're here, it seems too perfect to pass up. You can talk to her alone, and then I'll take the rest of the session."
"Lydia is totally cool!" Justin intervened and Melanie looked confused. She couldn't imagine Brian getting the help he so desperately needed nor could she imagine him seeking out a female doctor.
"Oh baby, I'd love to!" Lindsay gushed, ignoring Melanie's warning glimpse as she kissed his cheek. "I'm so proud of you!"
"Whatever. My appointment is at four. Sharp. So plan around that."
"We'll have to change our flight," Melanie complained and Lindsay shook her head.
"Doesn't matter. Of course we'll change our flight."
Lindsay went over Gus's eating and sleeping schedule with both Brian and Justin. She gave them his dietary preferences, the numbers where she could be reached, the contents of his luggage, and told them how to operate the portable crib Melanie went down to retrieve from the waiting cab, and the umbrella stroller. "Does he use the toilet yet?" Brian asked hopefully and Lindsay sighed.
"We've tried, but he's not ready. The doctor said not to force it. Afraid it's still diapers, but I packed plenty of them."
"Swell," Brian responded, sharing a grimace with Justin. Now that Gus was eating more food, diaper changing would be worse than ever.
Getting Lindsay out the door, past her last minute tears over leaving Gus, and her momentary apprehension was increased by a responsive wail from Gus, who held out his arms to her and pleaded, "MOMMY!" as if being abandoned to the Huns. Between Melanie and Brian, she was finally pried away from her baby. As soon as she was out of sight, Gus stopped wailing and was easily distracted again by Justin.
"Make sure there is nothing in a box that is low enough for him to reach that could hurt him," Brian insisted, starting to remove his breakable artifacts from low surfaces. His loft was so spare, childproofing it didn't take long. He and Justin carefully inspected the boxes, segregated items that were suspicious and realized what a challenge a totally open living space was with an inquisitive two year old. Brian's hopes for a romantic weekend of fucking his new roommate blind had morphed into an entirely different scene.
He scattered Gus's toys in hopes of interesting him in something constructive and safe, but the little one was far too fascinated by his unfamiliar surroundings to have any interest in these same old toys. Brian sighed, likening that fickle attitude to his own view of sexual partners. New toys were best. Except everyone had that one favorite, comfortable, necessary toy. For Gus it was a battered, slobber stained stuffed dog with most of its acrylic fur rubbed off, and its stuffing flattened by the weight of a sleeping baby. He called it "Poo" for reasons understood only by his two year old mind. Brian's "Poo" was Justin.
By four in the afternoon, Brian knew they had to get out of the loft, no matter what the weather. The boxes had lost their fascination for Gus. He was too over-stimulated to nap, and he was beginning to realize Lindsay and Mel were not around the corner, and he didn't know "Daddy" all that well.
"Where can we take him?" Brian asked, watching Justin futilely try to interest the baby in some of his pastels and a large sheet of drawing paper. Gus viewed the interesting colored chalk as something good to eat and when discouraged, he didn't take it well.
"Zoo?" Justin suggested.
"Bloomingdale's?" Brian glared at him. "Never too young to learn to shop," Justin defended his thought. "Mars?"
"Can you be serious?"
"I am serious! I mean that restaurant Mars where they dress up in alien costumes and you take a rocket ride to reach the place."
"He's too young for theme restaurants, thank god."
"I give up. This is your town."
Brian sighed. He was a rotten father, had no natural instinct for it. He couldn't keep a two year old happy for a couple hours let alone a couple days. Justin smiled at him. "Get dressed. We'll think of something. I'll bundle Gus up and get his stroller out and pack his bag." Brian did so, then came back into the main room to find a down encased Gus settled in his stroller with his diaper bag stored beneath. Justin, on the other hand, was still in his t-shirt and jeans.
"Why aren't you in your shoes and coat?" Brian asked, zipping up his leather jacket.
"I'm not going."
"The fuck you're not."
"I'm going to stay here and finish unpacking while you spend some time with your son."
"Yes, alone, Daddy. I end up being the caretaker, the mommy, when we have Gus. I love him and I don't mind it, but you need to see that you are perfectly capable of handling him alone. And it will be good for him too."
"Go," Justin was herding him towards the door, pushing the stroller along with them. "Have fun, relax."
Justin kissed Brian on the lips, then leaned down to kiss Gus's forehead. "GO!"
Only when he was in the cab, after fumbling with the fold up mechanism on the stroller, was Brian able to come up with a destination. On the way to his address, Gus was restless, trying to struggle off of his lap, whining and beginning to cry as Brian paid the fare. Holding a twisting baby with one arm, unfolding the stroller with the other, the diaper bag thrown over his shoulder, Brian cursed Justin as the weather turned worse and Gus began to wail.
"Let me help you," a man's voice. Brian didn't care if it was the ghost of Jeffrey Dahmer. If he could do something useful at that moment, he would be grateful. The man was close to Brian's own age, handsome, dressed similarly. He had a baby in a stroller much like Gus's, only she was obviously a girl, since every aspect of her attire incorporated the color pink. When Gus saw her calm, pretty little face, he grew quiet, as if not wanting to be shown up by a competing, behaving toddler. The man soon had the stroller open, the bag underneath and he helped Brian lower Gus inside and secure him with security straps.
"Thanks a lot," Brian said, heading towards the Natural History Museum, situated in a dour old building in Central Park. The man walked along with him.
"No problem. I know how it is. How old is he?"
"Little bit over two."
"So is Hannah."
"This is Gus. I'm Brian, by the way," he held out his hand.
When Brian laughed, the other man looked confused. "Sorry, I was just thinking if Jeffrey Dahmer offered to help, I'd let him."
"No relation, thank God!" He said with a laugh and they entered the vast lobby of the museum together.
They took time to unwrap their babies from the bulk of their protective clothing so they would be more comfortable and Brian noticed Hannah had a mop of platinum hair even though Jeffrey's hair was dark brown and wavy. His eyes were also dark, like melted chocolate, and his features were finely honed.
"Your wife must be very fair," Brian said, noticing he wore no ring.
"I'm not married. Hannah is adopted."
"Really? I thought it was almost impossible to adopt Caucasian babies. Especially if you're single. Is she Russian or something?"
Jeffrey removed his leather jacket and slung it over the handle of the stroller. He had a lean torso, well displayed in a snug cashmere sweater. "You're right about how hard it is to adopt. Hannah was a special circumstance. My younger sister found herself in a situation. She wasn't ready for a baby and I was. By blood, she's my niece, but I've legally adopted her. Is Gus your only one? He looks just like you."
"He's it. He lives with his two mommies in Pittsburgh, so I don't get to see him as often as I'd like."
"His two mommies? Lesbians?"
Brian nodded, tensed, prepared to defend. Jeffrey just smiled as they walked past the dinosaur bones in the foyer, entering the main halls of the museum.
"I'm gay, Brian. I don't have a hang up, so don't look as though you're ready to punch me out if I say something right wing."
Brian laughed. "I'm gay too. Gus was a sperm donation."
"I've thought about that, but there's no woman I'm close to for such an intimate combination."
"I was lucky. One of his mommies has been my friend since college."
"That makes it easier. I was going to take Hannah to see the butterflies."
"Me too!" Brian insisted, not admitting the butterfly exhibit was something he had always wanted to see himself.
After buying tickets for the exhibition, Jeffrey suggested Brian remove Gus's sweater, because it was warm and humid inside the glassed in conservatory where live butterflies flitted from plant to plant. They left their strollers at the exit and held their babies, informed they couldn't let them down in fear of their innocently crushing fragile insects in tiny fists. They stood in an anteroom for a moment. The double door system prevented stray butterflies from escaping when the doors opened for visitors. Inside, Brian was knocked back by the humidity, but Gus's giggling fascination with the brilliantly colored, graceful angels of the bug world countered his own discomfort. A monarch landed on Brian's shoulder, and he contained Gus's grabby hands in his own watching the majestic insect spread and flatten its black and orange wingspread.
"Monarchs are drawn to the beauty of a flower," Jeffrey said with a smile. "This one knows his beauties."
Brian met his gaze. It was kind of nice to be unexpectedly cruised at a butterfly exhibit.
After walking through most of the museum, the babies were drifting off, and the daddies decided cappuccino was a good idea. They went down to the modern cafeteria in the bowels of the museum, and Brian bought the coffee, insisting it was his payback for Jeffrey's earlier assistance.
"What do you do?" Brian asked when they found a quiet booth where the babies could sleep and they could converse in private.
"I recently completed my residency. I'm a pediatric oncologist."
"I know pediatric is kids, but I thought oncology was cancer."
"It is," he met Brian's stunned expression with a sigh. "As sad as it is, children get cancer. They have special needs. My job is to treat those needs, and hopefully get them past the crisis to lead normal lives."
"But don't you...don't many of them..."
"Die? Yes, Brian. Many of them aren't going to survive, statistically."
"How can you deal with that?"
"It's never easy. The family is devastated, the child is a terrible loss to the world, and I mourn every one of those tragedies in my heart."
"So how do you keep doing it?"
"Because of that one little person with no hair, whittled down to skin and bones by chemo, seemingly without hope, who somehow, miraculously, pulls through. Getting one kid on his or her feet again is worth all the pain and the inevitable sense of failure. Plus, we make new strides every day in this battle. My dream is to be put out of business by scientific advances. What do you do?"
Brian frowned. How did he tell Albert Schweitzer he was in advertising? He sold people products they neither wanted nor needed. Jeffrey smiled.
"I know what you're thinking. After what I just said, no matter what you do, you think it will sound less socially redeeming than my job. Don't worry, Brian. I get paid for what I do. Paid very well. I'm not a saint, volunteering my services. I have six figures of student loans I'm repaying."
Brian relaxed slightly. "I'm a partner in a Madison Avenue advertising firm."
"Wow. Young, aren't you?"
"I work hard."
"I'll bet," Jeffrey stirred his coffee, and then glanced at Brian's handsome face. "Do you have a partner at home?"
Brian sighed. "If you asked me that a week ago..."
"I'm asking that now," Jeffrey persisted.
"Yes, someone I was involved with before has come back into my life. He's in the process of moving in with me."
"I see," Jeffrey's disappointment was apparent, but he smiled quickly. "Congratulations."
"Thanks, I hope it works this time. Do you have a partner?"
"Why not? You're handsome, nice, a doctor."
Jeffrey wrinkled his fine nose that Brian noticed for the first time was lightly dappled with tiny freckles. "I had a partner. He couldn't reconcile having Hannah in our lives. He left."
"No, it was for the best. We had drifted apart."
"I'm not sure I could live with a baby full time," Brian said, not wanting to appear martyred.
"I have a full time nanny, so she's really no trouble. I see how you are with Gus. I suspect you underestimate your parenting skills. You're a very giving man."
"Quite frankly, Jeffrey, I'm a slow to reform disco slut. My kid has given you a picture of me that isn't accurate."
"Hum," Jeffrey said with a smile, leaning back against the booth. "I wonder how accurate your internal eye really is. Even Monarchs like you, Brian, and they are notoriously shy."
Brian laughed. "I make a good first impression. It's the second one that sinks me."
"I doubt that. Where are you living?"
"On Fifth, right where it meets Washington Square."
"Not too far from me. Condo?"
Jeffrey got them refills and Brian tried not to stare at his ass in his fine wool trousers as he walked away, but he failed. Nice ass, too. After two cups of coffee, and a long chat, the bathroom was inevitable. One man, and then the other, volunteered to watch the babies while they took turns at the urinals. When Brian returned to them, Jeffrey slipped a card into the pocket of his jeans. "This is my office number, but I wrote my home number on the back."
Jeffrey pressed a little closer to him, talking in a low voice. "I'm not trying to interfere in your relationship, Brian. But it's nice to meet someone my own age with a child, with similar issues. I was a disco slut once. I see no reason why we can't be friends."
Brian saw a very good reason why they couldn't be friends. Jeffrey made his dick hard, and he presumed he had a similar impact on Jeffrey. "I don't know."
"Just keep it. If you want to have dinner sometime, go to the theater, just talk about our kids, give me a buzz. No expectations. No pressure. Just friends."
"Okay," Brian gave him one of his own cards. He hesitated about writing his home number on it, not wanting Justin to pick up that call. That concern irritated him, so he finally wrote it on the back in easy to read numerals, along with his cell phone number. "Friends are fine. I don't really know many people in New York."
"Well, now you know me."
They bundled their babies up and walked out together to hail separate cabs. They decided two tall men and two babies and all the paraphernalia was too much for one cab. Brian let Jeffrey have the first cab, and waved as he rode away. He took the card he gave him and glanced at it. Jeffrey Walker. He slipped it into his wallet and told himself he had no intention of calling him as he held a somnolent Gus against his chest all the way to Soho.
Gus slept peacefully in his portable crib, behind a rice paper and ebony lacquer screen while his father forcefully fucked Justin in the bed, not far away. Afterwards, Justin kissed his neck and whispered, "What's up with you? You've been quiet since you came home. Are you mad at me for not going with you?"
"You should have gone," Brian said ambiguously.
"You guys did fine," Justin curled up beside him.
"Yeah," Brian turned on his side, prepared to sleep, forcing any thoughts of Jeffrey Walker out of his head.
On Tuesday, Melanie and Lindsay showed up at the loft looking rested and refreshed. Justin was there to greet them, and Gus ran to them as soon as they entered the room. "Brian's going to swing by to get you for the session with Lydia, Lindsay," Justin said. "Mel and I can stay here with Gus."
"I still don't see why you should talk to his shrink," Melanie groused. "Why take up a precious moment of the time he so obviously needs?"
"Honey..." Lindsay said, and Justin laughed.
"Lydia wants to talk to everyone who is close to Brian. It's all part of his therapy."
"I could tell her a thing or two," Melanie insisted, bouncing Gus on her knee. "Well, you guys got the place all cleaned up. No boxes." Lindsay changed the subject.
"You know how Brian is, everything in its place."
Brian entered the loft, smiling as Gus tumbled off of Melanie's lap and waddled over to him, arms outstretched. Melanie was less than pleased by his defection. "Are you ready, Lindsay? I like to be on time," he said as he leaned down to hug Gus warmly.
"Ready," she said, rolling her eyes at her lover as she kissed Gus and handed him back to Melanie. After they left, Justin glanced at Melanie.
"What's an oncologist?"
"A cancer specialist, why?"
Justin went pale. "What is a ped? A ped 0ncologist?"
"Ped? I have no idea. Do you mean PET? I know certain vets specialize."
"No, p-e-d, ped."
"Oh! I'll bet it's pediatric."
"Yes. Why are you asking all this, Justin?"
"Why would Brian call a pediatric oncologist?"
"He may have the maturity of a child, but a pediatrician wouldn't touch him, and he doesn't have cancer, Justin. So....?"
"He got a call confirming a one o'clock appointment with Dr. Walker tomorrow, and the caller ID said Ped. Oncology LLP."
"An LLP is a professional limited liability corporation," Melanie explained, falling back on her law degree. "It can't be about Gus. He just had a check up and is healthy as can be. I don't know, Justin...unless..."
"Unless the doctor is a trick?"
She met his eyes and sighed. "You know Brian, honey. He's an animal."
Justin shook his head. He had thought of that, but that was not how Brian worked. Brian never gave out his number to tricks. Brian never saw tricks more than once. And Brian's idea of a trick was not some staid doctor. No matter how he sliced this information, Justin didn't like any of the possibilities. He got down on the floor to play with Gus, determined to confront his lover with this knowledge as soon as he was home and the women were gone. Something about it made Justin uneasy, and he wanted to resolve it before it was allowed to fester.
"Flutterbye," Gus said of a drawing Justin had absently sketched while allowing his thoughts to run the gamut, and he smiled at his mispronunciation, momentarily distracted from his concern by the sweet innocence of the baby.
|Disclaimer: The television show Queer As Folk and its characters are the property of Showtime and CowLip Productions. No money is being made. Stories and discussion are intended purely for the entertainment of fans of Queer as Folk, the Brian and Justin characters, and Randall's writings.
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July 25, 2004