BETWEEN THE SESSIONS
I guess being sick has made me a better writer. This is my favorite between the sessions so far. I think its the most powerful segment. I made Paul read it just so I wasn't hallucinating, and he agreed. So, here it is. A DAY EARLY! Thanks for all the kind words about feeling better. Love, Randall
The two women clasped hands on the table for a brief moment as they shared a silent prayer before delving into their early dinner. Their table in the coffee shop of the hotel offered a close up view of Times Square. Once a sordid wonderland of sex shops and hookers, it had been sanitized to welcome families to Broadway. It even boasted a huge Toys R Us, large enough to house a Ferris wheel. These two women could not have stayed in this hotel before the clean up. Even now, they found the fashion ads and mainstream entertainment billboards that lit the area with neon to be garish and suggestive. The lively atmosphere that was New York was subtly threatening to them. Once again, they questioned why the national council for their church was being held in this city.
"I hope you don't mind my asking, Barbara, but you're the only person I know who has an admittedly gay son," Joan Kinney said in a hushed voice, staring earnestly at her old friend.
"Joanie, I've been waiting patiently for you to ask me, but I never wanted to impose. If you didn't know the truth about Brian, it wasn't my place to tell you."
"How long have you known about Kent?" She deliberately deflected the discussion from her own son. Barbara shrugged, taking her time with the best Reuben sandwich she had ever tasted. "Since he was a child, at least I feared it. He told me point blank his first year in college. You know how long ago that was, since he's Brian's age. They did go to school together until Brian...well, until he was asked to leave."
"How do you cope with it?" Joan asked, ignoring the reference to Brian's less than stellar parochial school experience.
"I pray every day for his immortal soul, and for him to find his way back into the light and live a normal life with a wife and family."
"Do you think he ever will?"
"Joanie, he's been with Roger for six years, now. I'm afraid Roger is as close to a wife as Kent will ever know." She sighed. "But then, I guess it could be worse."
"How could it be worse?"
Barbara hesitated, then sighed and patted Joan's arm gently. Joan withdrew from her solace, uncomfortable with any form of touching. "Joanie, at least Kent is in a stable relationship with one man. I know you must be terrified about Brian, about the way he lives."
Joan drew up at that remark. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the promiscuity, of course."
"Are you suggesting Brian is promiscuous?"
Barbara's slight smile infuriated Joan. She found it oddly superior. Her competitive spirit revived, and she was compelled to defend her own child against an unflattering comparison to someone else's spawn. The irony of defending her gay son was not lost on her. "Kent has said that Brian is, as he put it, 'the biggest stud in Pittsburgh'. That he went to those gay clubs to pick up a different handsome boy every night, at least until he moved. He has quite a reputation as a heartbreaker in that world, Joanie. I guess in that way he's not unlike how your husband, Jack, was. They just hunted in different fields. Since Kent has been with Roger, I never have to worry about his being beat up or murdered by some stranger he chooses to have anonymous sex with. Not to mention the increased chance of disease."
Joan Kinney offered her friend a glacial smile, then called the waiter over, signing for her meal. "No, I guess you don't, Barbara. But then, as homely as Kent is, I hardly think he would be able to find handsome men interested in sleeping with him every night. In that way, he's so like your husband, Ron, who is not likely to wander very far since women would show no reciprocal interest." She stood, her regal bearing edged in ice. "Brian on the other hand, was always so handsome and charming, he could have his pick of the girls he met, and, so it would seem, the boys, as well. Beauty and charm are indeed burdens that do not weigh heavily in your family." She walked away, out of the hotel, and hailed a cab, giving the driver an address in Soho.
"Forget your key?" Justin teased as he slid open the heavy door leading to the loft, expecting to find Brian on the other side. No one buzzed from the street, suggesting they knew the entry code. What he didn't expect was to find Brian's mother standing there, and she seemed equally surprised to see him.
"I, uh, walked in with another resident of the building. Is Brian home?" She explained the mystery of the entry code without being asked. Justin stepped aside and invited her to come inside. She hesitated a moment, then followed him in, flinching as the door slid shut with solid finality. He quickly muted the television, and then stood nervously in the center of the main area, looking impossibly young in jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt.
"I don't understand," Joan Kinney said uneasily. "I thought you left Brian for someone else."
Justin felt his face color. "Did he tell you that?"
"No, but so I was told."
"It's not that black and white, but all that really matters is that we've put it back together again, despite the cautionary tale of Humpty Dumpty."
She resisted his blazing smile, causing him to flinch. "Where's my son?"
"He should be home any minute. Please sit down. Want a drink? Um, a Coke? Something to eat?"
Joan declined his offer and sat down primly on the edge of a Barcelona chair, her knees tightly pressed together, her hands resting on her handbag. She deliberately avoided looking at the garish and obscene portrait of an ugly naked man. She couldn't help but find it bizarre to be talking to this pretty and terribly young man who was living in sin with her son. She tried not to think of them as a couple, but her mind was filled with unbidden images. "Your name is Justin, isn't it?" She asked as he sat across from her on the sofa, nervously jiggling the one bare foot he didn't tuck under him.
"Yes m'am," he suddenly felt twelve under her school marmish gaze. He could see a faint physical resemblance to his lover. She was the source of Brian's beautiful eyes, and perfect nose. He supposed he should be grateful to her for that. While Brian never talked about his childhood to Justin, he knew there was pain and misery there, and he tried not to resent this woman who chilled the loft with her disapproval. She was his mom, after all, and Brian had put up with a hell of a lot from both of Justin's parents. "You want me to phone him on his mobile?" He asked hopefully, dying for Brian's interruption of this heavy silence.
"No, I can wait. How long have you been in New York...Justin?"
"A few weeks."
"What is it you do?"
"I'm putting together a portfolio for an exhibition of young undiscovered artists at a Soho gallery. And I'm trying to transfer into the Fine Arts program at NYU."
"I see," her eyes scanned the naked man painting. "Is that your work?"
He suppressed a smile. "No, but I did the one over the fireplace."
Joan walked over to stare at the abstract splash of colors and form. She was always dismayed by Modern Art, unsure what she was supposed to be seeing. She supposed she could see that this painting was visually interesting if incomprehensible. "It's different," she said coolly and he smiled.
"It's not a recent work. Brian didn't tell me you were in town."
"No?" She turned, taking in the huge loft. "I don't know how you can live comfortably in a place with so few walls and doors."
"We both like the freedom of it."
"I see. This place must be very expensive in New York. I've heard the apartments here are quite small. Or is this a bad neighborhood?"
"No, it's a great neighborhood. The loft is very expensive, that's true. Brian is doing very well, Mrs. Kinney. You should be proud of him. I am."
"Yes, Brian has many good qualities," she said ambiguously, causing Justin to wince. What the hell did she mean by that? "Are you his... what would you call it? Boyfriend?"
"You can call it boyfriend. Partner. Lover. Whatever makes you happy."
"I'm a little surprised that you have this relationship with him after what happened to you. You must blame him for that."
Justin sat down heavily on the couch again, beginning to be annoyed by her, rather than intimidated. "You mean the bashing? Why would I blame him for that? He rescued me."
"His coming to the prom set it off, according to the newspaper reports."
"It wasn't the first time Hobbes hit me. It was just the worst time. And it wasn't Brian's being at the prom that did it. It was the fact that I'm unapologetic about being gay while Hobbes is in the closet and always will be."
"Did you ever think that may be the best way to go? To remain in the closet?"
"No," he said simply. "Why would I want to do that? I'm not ashamed of being gay."
"Perhaps you should be," she said with an arctic smile, and Justin smiled back, equally cold.
"Why? To make intolerant bigots more comfortable? I'm afraid they're just going to have to deal with it."
"Brian's remained closeted until very recently."
"No he hasn't, Mrs. Kinney. Only with his family. At work and in his private life, with his friends, Brian's very open. He was just trying to protect your feelings. But when Mr. Kinney became ill, he decided he should tell him the truth."
"But not me, his mother."
"He didn't think you would understand. Which you don't."
"I understand, Justin, I simply do not accept it as normal."
"What is normal, Mrs. Kinney? A heterosexual couple who live in misery? Cheat? A single mom abandoned by her husband? A widowed dad raising kids alone? For every so-called nuclear family, there are probably four alternative combinations. One of those is a gay relationship. But it's no more or less normal than any other variation."
"Well, it's very convenient for you to believe that, isn't it?"
Justin exhaled slowly, seeing for the first time a glimpse of the childhood that made Brian the emotionally stunted man he was today. His heart went out to him in a way he had never felt before. "Your big, tall, handsome son is gay, Mrs. Kinney. But he's still your son. He still needs you. He didn't do it on purpose, you know."
"He chose this life."
"Chose it? No. That's just not true. Did you choose to be straight? It's the same way for us. We are what we are."
"You don't have to act on it."
"Why wouldn't we? I love Brian. I don't have to be a woman to fall in love with your son."
"Did you seduce him?"
Justin stifled a grin. The idea of his seducing an innocent Brian was so laughable, he could barely contain it. "Are you asking if I was his first or if I moved on him first?"
"I...I don't know. Both, perhaps."
"It was mutual. And he was my first."
"You were a minor at the time?"
Justin sighed and rubbed the back of his neck pensively. That issue always annoyed him. "Just barely. Almost eighteen."
She shook her head. "Let me apologize on behalf of my son, my family. That is so wrong."
"Never apologize to me for Brian. I made up my mind to lose my virginity that night. I'm just so lucky it was with him. He was experienced, thoughtful and just happened to turn into the love of my life. How lucky is that?"
"Virginity?" She looked surprised by his use of that word. "How does a man call himself a virgin?"
"To me, it signifies the fact I had never had sex before. Not with another person. There's no cherry, I guess, like with a girl, but it's still a virgin encounter."
"How could he do that to an innocent boy?"
"Mrs. Kinney, I may have been young, but I was not innocent."
"He took advantage of you."
"No way! He gave me exactly what I wanted and much more."
"Why did you leave him if he was so special to you?"
Justin retrieved a cold Mountain Dew from the refrigerator and drained part of it as he walked back to her. "That's very complicated and private. It doesn't really matter now that I'm back."
"Was it his promiscuity?"
Justin looked at her, glanced away. "I don't think we should be having this conversation."
"What conversation is that?" Brian asked tensely as he entered the room. He glanced from his mother to Justin and back again. "When did you get here?"
He threw his leather overcoat across a chair and then poured himself a drink as he yanked at his tie to loosen it. His mother stared at him, taking in his expensive suit and elegant demeanor. What a dreadful waste, she thought to herself. Here was a man who could have made an advantageous marriage. Instead he was living in sin with a young boy. Wasteful and wrong.
"The first thing you do when you get home is pour yourself a drink, Brian?"
"When I see my mother and my...roommate... facing off, yeah. It seems the right thing to do. You're Catholic, Mom. Not Baptist. There's no ban on alcohol."
"You saw what it did to your father. You'd think you could learn from that."
Brian crossed over and lifted Justin's chin on one hand, leaning down to place a sound kiss on his lips. Justin slipped his hand into Brian's and they sat down on the sofa together, still holding hands. Brian stared defiantly at his mother as she glared at the couple. "What were you talking about when I came in?" He demanded and she answered.
"I asked Justin whether he left you because of your promiscuity."
Brian made a sound like a laugh, bereft of humor. "What did you say, Sunshine?"
"That it's private."
"Tell her the truth. Tell her you left because I'm too emotionally fucked up to be able to offer you any proof of my feelings for you, or to even act as if those feelings exist. Tell her that, Justin. It's true, isn't it? I'm incapable of love, unworthy of being loved, using promiscuous sex as a substitute for the real thing. Is that what Lydia told you, Mom?"
"It's not true," Justin said quietly and Brian stood, releasing his hand as he paced over to the window and back.
"Sure it's true. And what a surprise it is not. I was raised by wolves, what do you expect? A Pekingese?"
"Stop it, Brian!" She snapped, but he glared at her.
"No, Mom, you stop it! Don't come into my home and put my lover on the spot with your disapproval and your hatred towards me and what I am. You can despise me all you want back in Pittsburgh. You can dispatch me to hell with your religious dogma. But this is my town, my home, my relationship! I don't need your fucking poison infecting this environment!"
"Why are you so angry, Brian?" She insisted coldly and he shook his head.
"Why am I so angry? Where do we start? I'm angry about the fact that when I was in the second grade, you wouldn't let me see Star Wars because you thought it had secular and dangerous values. I'm angry that you never attended a single one of my soccer games because you were too busy with your church activities. I'm angry that when I asked if I could have a birthday party when I was nine, one lousy birthday party in nine years, you told me the only personal celebration worth recognizing was achievement."
Justin cut him a look, but Brian went on, oblivious.
"Then, whenever I achieved something, whether academic or athletic, it was never enough to warrant a fucking cake from you, but you could bake a cake every other day if someone at the church had a milestone or needed cheering up. I'm angry that I always had to make up shit at school about why I had a black eye or a cut lip, rather than tell them my drunken old man was beating the shit out of me while my mother looked the other way. I'm angry that I had to grow taller than Jack and stronger before I was finally able to stop his violence towards me."
"You can't blame me for your father's cruelty!"
"Why not, Mom? What did you do to protect me from him?"
"I did plenty! You don't know everything that went on! I was a victim of his cruelty too."
Brian sighed and shook his head, his tone becoming softer. Justin had to struggle not to give in to tears that were beckoned by Brian's heartfelt recounting of his childhood. "You were a grown up, Mom. You had an obligation to protect me. I'm angry that when I was six years old, your sainted brother, the priest, grabbed my balls and when I told you about it you called me a dirty little liar."
"Brian, people didn't know about those kinds of things back then. It seemed so fantastical, that it had to be a malicious lie. I do regret that now that the truth has come out about my brother."
"The truth came out about your brother when I was six, Mom, you just didn't want to know. You made me feel dirty and ashamed when I did nothing wrong. And don't go telling yourself that's why I'm gay now, because truthfully, of all the crap I had to put up with as a child, that one seems almost minor."
"So you had such a terrible childhood, is that it, Brian? Was your father right? Would you have been better off if you were never born?"
"You think I haven't thought about that? You think I haven't viewed death as a welcome visitor on more than one occasion? You think I don't wonder every day if my being born has made a rat's ass in this world?"
"Stop it," Justin said quietly, walking over to Brian and encircling him with his arms. "Don't say that. Where would I be without you?"
"Truthfully, Justin, you'd be better off. You'd either be in a relationship with someone who deserves you and who can return your feelings or you'd be on your own, exploring life. Either alternative beats this one."
Justin stared up at him and shook his head. "You don't get it, do you? Any life that you're not in is not a life I want to lead."
"You're right," Brian said softly. "I don't get it. I'm damaged goods, Sonny Boy. And all this expensive therapy hasn't made one damned bit of difference." He released Justin and went over to swoop up his coat, pausing at the door to look straight at his mother. "Go back to Pittsburgh, Mom. There's nothing to see here. The debris has already been cleared." He closed the door behind him, and Justin leveled a glare at Brian's mother, not yet ready for her to go.
Brian had never felt more out of place than he did in the Children's Hospital where Jeffrey worked. The walls were painted with happy murals. All the colors were bright and primary, rather than hospital green or white. Furniture was scaled down for smaller occupants and an extensive video library offered every children's movie made. Even the meals on trays being delivered to rooms reflected young appetiteshot dogs and pizzas and French fries. But just so no one ever forgot this was a place where children came to fight for their lives, he saw the patients with their smooth domes, bloated or pinched faces, drained of color and energy, and hooked up to scary machines and indecipherable tubes. Eyes made wide by early struggles seemed impossibly big as they watched him walk past open doors, while parents smiled sympathetically, assuming he was one of them.
He was searching for the common area known as the Circus. The aide told him he couldn't miss it, that the walls were painted with depictions of big top features from lion tamers to acrobats. Jeffrey was supposed to be there, and when he found the room, he stopped to watch. Several children in wheelchairs, and others who arrived under their own steam, together with a handful of parents, were watching the good doctor animate a children's book with colorful finger puppets that decorated each digit. He was wearing his street clothes and a white lab coat festooned with bright palm prints applied and signed by various patients. Each puppet had a different nuance to its voice. Brian was pretty sure he liked the pig best, since Jeffrey gave a Maurice Chevalier French touch to his dialogue. When the story was over, several children came up to hug him, and he returned each embrace with a smile as his audience began to disperse.
"So, you've been lying to me all along. You're no doctor. You're the story lady," Brian said when they were alone. Jeffrey shed the puppets and returned the book to a shelf, smiling at his surprise visitor.
"Story MAN, if you don't mind."
"Oh sure, go gender sensitive on me."
"God, it's so good to see you," Jeffrey said, embracing him warmly, noticing Brian held on a little longer than he normally would. Jeffrey moved him back to arm's length, reading the turmoil in his eyes. "What's wrong?"
Brian turned away, suddenly dying for a smoke. "Where can I light up?"
"Outside, if you really must."
"I really must."
"Come on, I'm finished for the night," Jeffrey left his lab coat in his locker and they left the hospital together. They sat on a stone bench in an enclosed tranquility garden and Jeffrey didn't scold as Brian lit a cigarette, his hand quivering slightly. He let him inhale and exhale a couple times, and then rested his hand on Brian's thigh. "What's wrong, guy?"
"Does something have to be wrong?"
"I've missed you like hell. I'll take you any way I can get you, but you seem distressed."
Brian glanced at his profile. "You haven't even called."
"You asked me not to call. I honored that request, but it was never easy, Brian."
"For me either."
"So here we are. Have you eaten? I'm starving."
"I'm not eating in the hospital cafeteria."
Jeffrey laughed. "Food here is quite good, but no, I have another idea, let's go."
In a small Italian café in Little Italy, over red and white checkered tablecloths and candles in Chianti bottles, Brian began to relax as he sipped house red and let go of some anger. It was a mixed crowd, gay and straight, but unlike some of the main line cafes in Little Italy, this one was at least gay friendly. Jeffrey reached across the table and interlaced his fingers with Brian's without fear of reprisal.
"It's boring. Let's talk about something else."
"You're never boring to me, Brian. Please. What's on your mind?"
"World peace and who is likely to win the World Cup?"
Jeffrey yanked his hand slightly. "Stop it. I'm a good listener. Talk to me."
Brian sighed. Jeffrey had an amazing ability to cut through his defenses, much like Lydia, but with a twist. "Are your parents still living, Jeffrey?"
"Yes, both of them. Yours?"
"My Dad died a couple years ago."
Brian shrugged. "He was a bastard. What is your relationship like with your folks?"
Jeffrey smiled and stroked Brian's palm with his thumb. They continued holding hands.
"Typical East Coast WASP family. My father is a doctor and a professor of anatomy at the medical school at Harvard. My mother comes from money, has been spoiled her whole life. My father is a bit distant and disapproving, although he pretends as if he's totally fine with the gay thing. He's not. He's mystified by it. My mother is sweet, an eternal debutante, but she drinks a bit too much, lately. I have an older sister who is a well known thoracic surgeon, and my younger sister is a flake. Still finding herself. Wants to be an actress."
"She's Hannah's mom?"
"Yes. Well, she bore her. She's never been a mother to her. What is your relationship like with your mom, Brian?"
"My mother is an Irish Catholic religious fanatic cunt," he said bluntly, and Jeffrey laughed.
"Tell me how you really feel."
"Sorry, I know it's un-American to rag your mom."
"I wouldn't want to hear that about MY Mom, but I don't know YOUR Mom. It may be balls on accurate about her."
"Trust me, I'm being kind."
Over a shared platter of crab claws and garlic bread, they discussed Brian's tortured history with his parents, but he left out some of the more sordid details, concerned that Jeffrey would think badly of him.
"Brian, you're doing the right thing in seeing Lydia. Working out these issues. Dealing with your anger and betrayal. Unfortunately, that's probably all you can do, is let therapy run its course and give you the tools you need to live with that baggage. And of course, as your friend, you can talk to me as much as you want about any of it and it will never go any further."
Brian leaned back with a smile as the first course was cleared and salads were delivered. Plump green olives and green banana peppers glistened on a bed of lettuce drenched in oil and vinegar and dotted with shredded parmesan.
"I feel bad staying clear of you for a week and then running to you when I hit a wall with my mother. Doesn't seem fair somehow."
"You should feel bad staying clear of me for a week. I know I do. I owe your mother one if she inspired you to break the fast."
"Lydia asked me if I was falling in love with you."
Jeffrey looked up, his fork pausing midway to his mouth. "What did you say?"
"I said I love Justin."
"Right answer," Jeffrey countered with a weak smile.
"But she wouldn't let me off the hook."
"How do you mean?"
"She pointed out that one does not preclude the other."
Jeffrey reached out and closed his hand on Brian's wrist where it rested on the table. "Don't be coy about this, Brian. What did you tell her?"
"Nothing. I called time on the session."
"Why is that?" He tightened his grip on Brian's wrist until the cowry shells bit into his flesh. He didn't flinch.
"Because I don't know the answer."
Jeffrey sighed and released him, leaning back in his chair. "I understand. I don't either."
"I watched Justin standing up to my mom today and was reminded of how brave he is, and how much he loves me. I've never believed in love. Until I met him. And now I have this fucking complication with you. Me, the great uncaring bastard, Brian Kinney. It's almost a farce."
"Except it's not funny. We're all real people. We can each be hurt."
"So what do we do, Brian? The gentlemanly thing for me to do would be to bow out and let you work through your relationship with Justin. He beat me to the punch, after all. He staked his claim first. That's what I'd like to see myself do."
"Well, that would settle it, because I'm no chaser."
"Unfortunately, I don't see myself being the hero here. You've become very important to me. I'm not sure I can walk away. I think I may have to take a chance and compete, and if I lose, I lose."
Brian ordered espresso, while Jeffrey gave in to tiramisu after they devoured their pasta in virtual silence. "It's no competition, Jeff," Brian finally said, chasing the lemon peel around the edge of his saucer with a tiny spoon. "I'm living with Justin. He's in my life. He gave up his lover and his whole life in Pittsburgh to move here and be with me."
"I see. Are you asking me to butt out? Because I'm not a stalker."
"No. Yes. No," he shook his head slowly. "I don't know."
"Look at me, Brian."
He looked up, staring into Jeffrey's dark eyes, which picked up a cognac hue in the flickering candlelight.
"You know we're perfect for each other, don't you?"
Brian shrugged. "Why?"
"Same age, same goals, same drive, same interests...if Justin were NOT in the picture, would you be hesitating?"
"Yes, because I'm still adverse to relationships."
Jeffrey smiled wryly. "I can get you comfortable with that. I have no illusions. I'm not an unrealistic romantic."
"For all I know, you're shitty in bed," Brian teased. Jeffrey laughed.
"Let's call Mario over. He's that good looking waiter you've been ogling, and he can testify to my prowess."
"You nailed him?" Brian asked, turning to focus on the tall, handsome young man with a mop of curly black hair and classic Roman features.
"He was alone and so was I. Shit happens."
Brian exchanged a high five with him, and then sighed. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too. You call it, Brian. You're the one with the complicated life. I can be patient."
"Let me have a bite of that dessert."
Jeffrey fed it to him across the table, on his fork, and used his finger to wipe the crumbs from Brian's lips. Impulsively, Brian grabbed his hand and pressed his lips to his palm, causing Jeffrey to moan and close his eyes.
Brian released him with a sigh. "I need to get home. It's getting late."
"This is on me," Jeffrey volunteered to pay and they walked out together, pausing on the street in front of the café. "Call me, Brian. I still want to teach you to tango."
"I still want to learn. I'll, uh, I'll call." He was hesitating, not wanting to separate.
Jeffrey pulled him up against his body, holding tightly to him as he kissed him hard on the mouth. Brian felt the heat course through him like an electrical storm, wild and undirected. His tongue slipped into his mouth, his dick was pressed tightly to Jeffrey's groin. They were oblivious to the stares and comments they drew from passersby. They were only aware of each other. Reluctantly, Jeffrey released him. He held on to his hand for a moment, and then released that too. He waved goodbye, as he walked away, and Brian watched his retreating figure grow smaller with distance. He waited for his body to come back to him, feeling as if Jeffrey still had possession of it. Finally, he sighed and took the long way home, using the time to buy Justin a sub sandwich and a packet of fries, finding that gift so much easier to bear than a simple bouquet of flowers.
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July 25, 2004