BETWEEN THE SESSIONS
Brian glanced at his watch, then at the door of the small café. Located off a less hectic side street in midtown Manhattan, Brian chose it for its proximity to his office and relative obscurity. Jeffrey was ten minutes late. Brian's caffe latte was growing cool before him, as he twisted the cowry shells of his bracelet, his totem for agitation. Today, that act failed to soothe him. He snapped open his cellular to phone Jeffrey's office, ignoring the glare of diners seated two tables away. He got enough shit from the sphincter police for his smoking habits. He wasn't about to let them decide when he could or could not place a phone call. No one died of second hand mobile conversations, no matter how annoyed they may be because of the intrusion. In a concert, in a movie, maybe even in heavy traffic, yes, but in a noisy little café, fuck it. Just as the phone rang at the office, Jeffrey came in the door of the cafe. Brian snapped the clamshell phone shut, hanging up on the receptionist's cheery greeting.
Jeffrey had thrown a tan overcoat over mint green scrubs, a mask still dangling at the base of his neck. He wore running shoes and he looked exhausted, a double day's growth of beard shadowing his handsome features. "I am so sorry," he said quietly, slipping into the booth and looking wistfully at Brian's lukewarm coffee. Without being asked, Brian slid it across the table to him and watched him gulp it down in three long swigs. Afterwards, he leaned back, closed his eyes and massaged his eyelids with his fingertips, under the wire frames of his glasses. Brian wondered if he had ever seen anyone look more tired. And yet, the short sleeves of his scrubs revealed strong biceps and the drawstring pants were not unflattering to his tall, lean frame. He had to make time to work out, regularly. That much was obvious. Jeffrey combed through his dark hair with his fingers, and then stared blankly at the menu.
"What are you having?" He asked Brian, who sighed.
"Don't know. You want to skip this?"
"No, no," he shook his head as if to snap himself out of it. "Sorry... I...can I just sit here a minute?"
"Sure," Brian ordered two more coffees from the bored waitress, and then let Jeffrey sit in silence, staring at the top of the table as if it were the Rosetta Stone. Brian finally reached over and covered one of Jeffrey's hands with his own, to gently solicit his attention.
To his surprise, Jeffrey trapped Brian's fingers by covering them with his free hand, holding it there. Brian felt uncomfortable with this unexpected, public intimacy, but instinctively, he knew not to try and withdraw. The arrival of the coffee was his impetus to break the hold Jeffrey had on his hand. As Brian added sugar packets to his drink, Jeffrey excused himself and went in search of the bathroom.
"This is going well," Brian thought sarcastically to himself, but his Irish instinct told him things were not as they appeared. After what seemed too long a period for Jeffrey to be gone, Brian went after him. The unisex bathroom was a one-holer and the door was locked. "Jeff, it's Brian, open up."
His waitress passed by and gave him a wilting look as if certain he was up to some gay hi-jinx in the john.
"I'll be out in a minute, Brian," he finally responded in a soft voice.
"Open it, or I'm leaving," Brian insisted impatiently.
He heard the lock turn and he pulled the door open, finding Jeffrey seated on the tile floor, between sink and toilet, resting his forehead on the heels of his hands, his elbows against his raised knees. Brian closed and locked the door, sitting on the toilet seat as he stared at Jeffrey. "Are you on drugs or something?" He knew doctors were notorious for becoming addicted to drugs, partly due to the easy access they had to a garden variety of delights. Jeffrey looked up at him and smiled wanly. He placed his glasses in his pocket and sighed, massaging his temples.
"We called time on the Robinson kid a half hour ago."
"Time of death. He was three. Three years old, and the last eighteen months of those three years have been spent in excruciating agony. Chemo infusions, spinals, shunts, radiation, a horror story of poisons and big needles and vomiting and high fevers and no hair and no energy and bone pain and fatigue and depression and fear. Top it off with constant diarrhea, edema, thrush, morphine, and oh yes, all of these noble efforts sapped the life savings of a young couple and probably put their marriage on the rocks due to the strain and the terror, and it all culminated in his death from fucking measles."
"Measles?" Brian repeated through the suddenly tight stricture of his throat. Jeffrey nodded.
"It's called an opportunistic infection. He was neutropenic which meant he had no immunities due to the bombardment of his body with our so-called cures. Someone carried something in somehow and of course his body took it on full bore. He had no defenses, none. Even the antibiotics worked against him. He tried, the poor little soldier, he really..." Jeffrey stopped talking, and shook his head.
Brian was unsure what to do. He felt his pain, he felt his own pain and he didn't even know the child. He could only imagine the feeling of defeat had he been fighting for the boy's life for months. He was not good at this touchy feely stuff, but he was human and he had to do something. He closed a hand on Jeffrey's shoulder, and Jeffrey rested his cheek against it, wetting it with a flow of warm tears.
They sat there, with Brian verbally turning away people who knocked. Slowly Jeffrey was regaining his composure when the lock turned, and the barrel chested manager stood there, dangling a key. "You faggots take this perverted shit down to Chelsea! I got paying customers who want to use the toilet...so..." he exhaled sharply as Brian grabbed his greasy shirt front and threw him up against the far wall.
"Who are you calling a faggot, fat boy?"
Terror replaced smugness for the manager, who stumbled over an apology. Brian relaxed his grip when he felt Jeffrey rest a hand on his back. "It's ok, Brian, let's just go."
Brian stuffed a twenty dollar bill in the man's gaping mouth as he said, "Buy yourself a clean shirt. You reek. And don't fuck with faggots who don't want to be fucked with. You get it?"
"Sorry sir," the manager mumbled after spitting out the currency. Brian just glared at him as he and Jeffrey left the bathroom and the café, walking west.
"That was not what you needed after what you've been through. Sorry," Brian said to Jeffrey. He lit a cigarette to calm his nerves.
"Strangely, it is what I needed. Anger is often a leveling response, even if it's not my own. I appreciated that flare up. I vented, vicariously."
"I don't mean this in a critical way, Jeff, but shouldn't you be with the family right now? That little boy's parents?"
"The family doesn't want to see me, Brian. I failed them. They hate me right now. I completely understand that. It's to be expected. They have grief counselors with them. I was there all night as the crisis worsened, that's why I look like such a wreck."
"Jeff, we could have cancelled."
"No, I wanted to see you. It...it just took longer than I thought it would for him to let go. They're tiny, but they're such incredible fighters."
Brian impulsively reached down and took Jeffrey's hand, squeezing it gently. Jeffrey held to it as they walked, more for support and humanity than for romantic reasons. Brian dared anyone they passed to threaten the two men with a disapproving glare, but this was New York, and they walked on unbothered. "I think I can eat now," Jeffrey said after they traveled several blocks in silence. "If you don't have to get back to the office, that is."
"Fuck the office," Brian said, and they turned off and entered a pizzeria, the overpowering scent of garlic, cheese and fresh pastry reminding them they were both ravenous. Jeffrey hadn't eaten since the morning of the previous day, and he packed in several slices, causing Brian to smile.
"You're going to sacrifice your twenty eight inch waist."
"I sacrificed that two inches ago. You eating that?" Brian pushed his plate to him, watching him wolf down the last slice of his pepperoni special.
Sated at last, Jeffrey leaned back and smiled, his first smile of the day. "I'm so sorry, Brian. I'm really not a drama queen. You had the misfortune of meeting with me on one of my blue meanie days. I hate death. I despise death. I think of death as some horrible fairy tale hobgoblin, scratching bony fingers on the window panes of children's rooms. I'm supposed to keep the monster at bay. And when I fail, I experience that failure very deeply."
"What do you do to feel better?"
"It depends, really. But the one sure fire cure is to go home and grab my healthy little girl in my arms and hold her until she begs me to let her go. And then I feel guilty for the empty arms of the parents I disappointed."
Brian glanced at him and sighed. He wanted to kiss him, to touch him, to make him feel pleasure, not out of some overwhelming desire, but because sex was his one unfailing gift, the one thing he could offer as comfort. Surely even Justin wouldn't begrudge this once, this attempt to make a man like Jeffrey feel at ease.
Brian slipped his hand under the table and spread it on Jeffrey's firm thigh. He slid it up, and Jeffrey met his gaze with a smile. "As much as I would like it, Brian, I can't accept a mercy fuck."
"Who says it's a mercy fuck? You're a handsome guy."
"So are you and I'm struggling against my attraction to you, but you have a boyfriend. I like you very much, but I'm not in the business of causing pain, despite what I do for a living. This would be painful. For you, for him, eventually for me. I know why you're doing it, and I really appreciate it, but no. Let's not muck it up with mercy sex."
Brian withdrew his hand and frowned, feeling rebuffed and a little silly for that reaction. "Then what is it you want from me?"
Jeffrey got the check and insisted on paying, then winced. "I left my wallet locked in my locker."
"If I had a dime for every time I heard that one," Brian smirked, fishing out some cash from his own wallet.
"The answer to your question is I would like to be your friend, Brian. I like you."
"I like you too, Jeff. But let's face it, there's a lot of sexual chemistry between us.
"True. Does that preclude friendship?"
Brian thought of Mikey and his friend's long held crush on him, then smiled. "Guess not."
"Good. So tell me about your lover," Jeffrey insisted and to his surprise, Brian heard himself doing just that.
"I ordered pizza for dinner," Justin said when Brian came home that evening.
"I wish you'd ask me first."
"Why?" He followed him into the bedroom, insinuating himself between Brian and the closet to seek and receive a kiss in greeting. "You love pizza."
"Had it for lunch."
Brian let his hands rest at Justin's waist, touching his forehead to his. "We can put it in the fridge and go out," Justin offered, parting his lips for Brian's inevitable kiss. He stroked his tongue with his own, feeling the fire ignite. When the pizza man rang, the bell didn't get answered. Brian had plowed his way deep inside of Justin's tight, rounded rump and nothing could make him budge until their mutual satisfaction was complete. An empty charge to his credit card would commemorate the pizza place's dissatisfaction with his lack of availability.
Afterwards, lying side by side, sharing a joint, Justin propped himself up on one elbow and asked, "What's wrong, Bri?"
Brian didn't turn his head as he said, "I was just wondering how I could get over it if something terrible happened to Gus. I know Lindz would be devastated, but how would I cope? How does anyone cope with the death of a child?"
"Why are you thinking such morbid thoughts? Gus is fine!"
"I know, I just..." he sighed, closed his eyes.
"Is this about that pediatric oncologist?"
Brian's eyes fluttered open. He turned to look at Justin. "What do you know about him?"
"His office called yesterday to confirm your appointment at one today. I was going to mention it after you saw Lydia, but we got involved with other things and I forgot."
Brian smiled as he remembered those "other things" they got involved with. Freed by Gus's departure they had sex in random places in the loft, giving in to their frustration over having their experimentation together subdued by circumstances.
"So, is there something wrong? Something you're not telling me? Are you sick?" Justin demanded. Brian laughed.
"Yeah, Sunshine, but only a LITTLE sick, so I'm seeing a doctor who specializes in LITTLE people. Christ, Justin, he's a pediatrician!"
"You don't have to be an asshole about it. Explain!"
Brian sighed, wishing he could put this off, because his feelings about Jeffrey were too ambivalent to be easily explained to anyone, even himself. "He's this guy I met when I took Gus to the museum. He helped me with him. He has a daughter Gus's age, so we pushed the strollers around together like a couple of suburban house fraus. We're about the same age, we just hit it off. I liked him. Before you go off on me, it's not about sex. He knows about you. He respects that."
"What did you tell him about me?"
"All of it, in the five minute Cliff Notes version."
"Did you tell him we were a couple?"
"He can do the math, Justin. He's a smart guy."
"Is he with someone?"
"Not right now. Broke up."
"Beautiful fucking beautiful. Is he hot?"
Brian shrugged. "Yeah, he's plenty hot in a bookish, intellectual sort of way."
Justin grew quiet and Brian sighed. "Look, kid, I'm not saying I wouldn't nail Jeffrey, but he has scruples. He wants to be friends, and I'm willing to give it a try. Mikey and I have managed to be friends for a hell of a long time."
"You don't want Mikey as a lover."
"No, it's not that I don't want him, it's that I know it wouldn't be the right thing for us to do." Justin left the bed, and began dressing. "What are you doing, drama princess?"
"I'm hungry," he said tensely. "I'm going out for a burger."
"Justin, I'm not going to ask your permission to have a friend." "I get it."
"Do you?" Brian rolled off the side of the bed and to his feet, grabbing Justin's arms firmly in his. "Let this go. This isn't about us."
"Whatever, Brian. Every man who comes into this relationship is about us. We just don't need this complication right now when we're adjusting to living together again. "
"It isn't a complication. Give me a minute to get dressed and I'll go with you."
Justin sat on the edge of the bed, watching Brian pull on his clothes. When the phone rang, Justin answered it. Brian stared warily at him as he heard him say with a smirk, "No, this is MRS. Brian Kinney, who is this?" He dangled the phone at Brian who snatched it from him as Justin mouthed the wo9rds, "THE DOC."
"Hi, Jeff." Brian said, glaring at Justin's all-knowing face.
"Brian, I'm sorry to bother you at home in the evening."
"No problem. Justin and I were just going out for a burger."
"Sounds good. I won't keep you. Hannah's asleep, so I just wanted to take a minute to apologize for this afternoon."
"Apology not accepted," Brian sat on the bed to pull on his boots. "You did nothing wrong."
"Except thrust you into the depths of depression along with myself. I don't always over react like that. This was a particularly bad one because the cancer seemed to be stabilizing only to be overtaken by that fucking infection. The irony is perverse."
"Why don't you join us for a burger? You can meet Justin," he said, ignoring Justin's adamant head shaking. Brian had to cajole Jeffrey to leave Hannah with her nanny and come out, but he finally gave in.
The rain had stopped. While it was cold, it was not miserable, and Brian and Justin walked to the place Brian liked best for burgers, midway between his loft and Jeffrey's condo, in the Village. Justin was quiet, but he looped his arm through Brian's which made Brian hope he was over the worst of his insecurity.
In the small restaurant that specialized in classic American home style cooking, and thus vaguely reminded Brian of Debbie's diner in Pittsburgh, they took a back booth and slid in on the same side. Jeffrey came in moments later, and Justin zeroed in on him like a laser site as he approached their booth. His stomach tightened with tension. Jeffrey was too tall, too fit, his hair was too thick, his features too elegant, his eyes too kind. He dressed in chic, but not flashy clothes, and he had a beatific smile that was almost impossible to resist. Justin hated him on sight. More so when he kept his eyes fixed on Brian as he slid into the booth and only then looked at Justin.
Brian made the introductions, and Justin noticed Jeffrey's hands were smooth and strong as they exchanged a ritual handshake. Jeffrey shook his head slightly, smiling wryly. "Brian said you were a blond beauty, but I think he downplayed that a little. If you had lived when Botticelli was painting, we'd see your face over the arches at the Vatican."
Brian rolled his eyes, but Justin had to smile. Even if it was a line, it was a good one.
"You've been to the Vatican?" Justin asked and Jeffrey nodded, glancing at the plastic encased menu. "When was that? When they declared you a saint?"
Brian elbowed Justin in the side as Jeffrey looked over at him, surprised.
"No, I think they're waiting for my death before they do that. What brought that on?"
"He's a rude little brat I can't take out in public," Brian said with a glare at his lover and Justin glared back.
"The way Brian described you; I figured a halo was in your closet."
Jeffrey glanced at Brian, and then laughed. "If so, it's so deep in that closet, it hasn't been found yet. Never subscribed to the doctor- as-godlike theory myself, Justin. Went to too many parties with med students, I guess. Scary bunch."
They ordered and the first portion of their order to come out was three old fashioned milkshakes. After taking a long draw, Jeffrey sighed. "This is just what I need. Sugar, fat, chocolate, a perfect concoction for the blues."
"You still feeling bad?" Brian asked gently and Jeffrey shrugged.
"I'm making it, over the worst of it, but yes, it will haunt me for awhile."
"Jeff lost a patient today," Brian explained to Justin who wrinkled his nose.
"That must happen a lot."
"It happens," Jeffrey responded. "But not as often as you think. I never seem to be ready for it emotionally when it does happen."
"You should have gone into dermatology or something," Justin observed. "You just tell patients to lay off chocolate and go play in the sunshine until their skin clears up."
Brian sighed, but Jeffrey smiled at that suggestion. "Actually, sunshine is no longer considered good, even for acne."
"Sunshine is a real pain in the ass, today," Brian said ambiguously, referring to Justin's nickname. Justin stuck out his tongue at him and Jeffrey didn't inquire.
Just before the burgers arrived, Brian made Justin slide out so he could go to the john, nervously leaving him alone with Jeffrey. As soon as he left, Jeffrey smiled at the reticent blond. "I sense a little unease, Justin. I'm not after your boyfriend, even if he were interested, which he isn't."
Justin leaned back against the booth and nodded. "Yes you are, Jeff. I can see it in the way you look at him. You may be telling yourself you're not, but you are. You'd like nothing better than to take Brian home and fuck his lights out."
"That's not true. Do I find him attractive? Yes, who wouldn't? If he were free, would I hope that we had a chance at something more than friends? Yes, I think I would. But I'm not in the home wrecking business, and Brian has made clear his relationship with you. I'm also not into numbers, so getting a roll from him is not my fantasy, either. "
"What is your goal with Brian, then, Jeff?"
"I have no goal. I hope we can be friends. I enjoy his company. I hope you and I can be friends too, Justin. It would make it a lot easier for him, wouldn't it?"
Justin narrowed his eyes at the other man. He was trying to suss him out, get behind this impenetrable façade of niceness and responsibility.
"I don't know if you're shitting me or if you're shitting yourself, or both, but I don't buy it, Jeff. Ever since I've known Brian, I've had to endure his best friend, Mikey. Mikey was around long before me, so I had no choice. And Brian feels it would be a disaster to their friendship if he slept with Mikey, so there's a barrier there. But I often got tired of Mikey's mooning around Brian, waiting for him to change his mind. Sometimes he looked at me as if he hoped I'd walk out in front of a bus and clear the field. I was thinking to myself, being in New York now, it's going to be nice not to have Mikey and his unrequited angst in my face. I'm not that interested in a New York version of that problem."
Jeffrey smiled. "I don't know this Mikey, so I can't comment on him, but I do know myself, and mooning around someone, suffering unrequited desire, has never been my thing. I'm a little too old to change my stripes now, Justin. I can't wave a magic wand and make you believe me, but hopefully in time, you'll relax."
"Maybe, but until then, I'm not stupid, and I'm watching."
Brian returned at that moment, sensing the tension as he slid in beside Justin and cast a glare at him. "What?"
Justin shrugged, but Jeffrey answered. "Justin was just telling me about your old friend in Pittsburgh."
"Which old friend?"
"Mikey?" Brian sighed as he flicked Justin on the temple with his index finger. "Why are you talking about Mikey?"
"Just explaining to Jeffrey that the role of unrequited friend is also taken in your life."
"Twat," Brian said as their food arrived, distracting the conversational flow.
On the way home, Brian smoked in silence. Finally, Justin spoke. "Why are you so pissed?"
"You acted like a total twat with Jeff tonight. It was embarrassing."
"You're the one who should be embarrassed. You acted like a groupie!"
"The man lost a patient today, a three year old kid. Do you think you could show a little compassion?"
"I am compassionate towards the child and his family. But it wasn't Jeff's kid. He's a cancer doctor. Don't you think he should be a little more hardened to it?"
"I know if my kid was sick, I would want a doctor who feels as deeply as Jeff does."
"Well, your kid isn't sick, Brian, so quit making him into some kind of hero!"
"You quit making him into some kind of rival!"
"Is this payback? Because if this is payback, why did you ask me to move in with you?"
"Payback? For what?"
"For what I did in Pittsburgh."
"Jesus Christ, it's not exactly tit for fucking tat, now is it?"
They entered the elevator in Brian's building and rode in silence, resuming their conversation when they were inside the loft. "Let's compare," Brian said, throwing off his jacket as he paced the main room and Justin leaned against the bar, arms folded over his chest. "In Pittsburgh, you started going out with this guy behind my back while we were still living together. You carried on this affair until it reached the point where you chose him over me and moved out. Much to my surprise."
"Because you were being a total prick, fucking everyone in sight and making no progress in moving our relationship along."
Brian shrugged. "Revisionist history. We had a deal, and I was playing within the bounds of that deal. You were the one who made your own rules and played me for an idiot. "
"I wanted romance, Brian. I wanted commitment. Sue me for looking for that when you were absolutely dedicated to keeping it out of our relationship."
"Then you should have had the balls to tell me. Did you ever think that maybe I was fucking around so much because I KNEW what you were doing and I was in pain? That I was trying to convince myself it didn't fucking matter to me?"
Justin sighed. "I see Lydia is rubbing off on you."
Brian paused. He realized Justin was right. He was not only examining his behavior, but he was commenting on it. He felt strangely empowered by that realization. "Well, that's what happened, isn't it?"
"Brian, you never even asked me to stay?"
"What would have been the point of that?"
"I might have read it as a signal of how much you cared. I might have stayed."
"That was then, this is now. Now I met this guy I like, and I told you about him almost immediately. It's a friendship, not fucking, and he understands that. So help me, here. How is this payback?"
"He wants you, Brian and you want him. It's obvious. I don't care what you guys say about being friends and respecting our relationship. The fact is, he wants you."
"Ok, he wants me and I want him. Nothing weird there. You know how I am. The weird thing is that I'm willing to hang with him even without sex. I genuinely like the guy, Justin. I admire him. Let me have this."
"I can't stop you."
"I mean let me have it without making my life miserable."
Justin sighed and walked into his arms, kissing him gently. "Ok, Brian, I'll be nice to Jeff if you promise me one thing."
"What's that?" Brian asked, looping his arms around Justin's waist and pressing his pelvis tightly against him.
"When it goes from unrequited to requited, you'll tell me."
Brian laughed and kissed him again, his hand sliding inside the back waistband of Justin's jeans to spread across his bare ass. "It isn't changing."
"Promise me," Justin persisted and Brian pushed him back on the sofa, standing over his prone form and unbuckling his own belt as he promised he would, prepared to distract him from such concerns in the one way they both found irresistible.
Justin allowed his mind to switch off as he melted into Brian's touch. Slowly, he surrendered to the heat. He enjoyed it much more without worrying about handsome, heroic doctors. A man Brian's age, a man Brian LIKED. He closed his arms around Brian and moved against him, feeling his lover respond to the brush of his body. He drifted his fingers down the bumps of his vertebrae, feeling the bliss begin and reaffirming this was not something he would concede without a fight. They had been through too much together not to grab a chance at happiness and hold tightly to it.
"You're hurting me, King Kong," Brian whispered against his ear in a joking manner. Only then did Justin realize just how tightly he was holding on.
|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