This is the follow up to Blue Lights in which Brian and Justin are separated. Brian makes a late night phone call to Justin in part I and they engage in phone sex. Brian is living in New York. This story commences close in time to when that phone call took place. (Note: I consider this a pre-quel to my stories, Just Ask Me and Marry Me. It suggests a way of transitioning the characters from Pittsburgh to New York, which is where the other stories begin.)
"Brian, you must be a very wealthy man."
Brian looked up from a comfortable leather wing chair in a luxe private office with a view of Central Park. Not his style. Too much nailhead and oriental carpet over hardwoods and gleaming mahogany surfaces. But it was tasteful and elegant. The setting suited the middle-aged woman who faced him from an identical chair. She wore St. John and real pearls, her half glasses perched low on her nose. African American, she was a preeminent psychiatrist in this city. At the beginning of Brian's third visit, her statement caught him off guard.
"If this is your way of extracting more money per hour, forget it, Lydia. For what I pay you, I could fly to Bermuda and mellow out once a week."
"Yes, and it would probably do you more good."
He narrowed his eyes at her. What was her game? "You don't want my business?"
"As you know, I have a waiting list. If your butt is not in that chair, someone else's will be. Maybe someone who really wants my help. Fact is, you are wasting my time and yours. That's not good."
"How am I wasting your time? I'm paying you for it."
"Oh yes, you are indeed paying for it. Thus my remark about your wealth. I know I don't come cheap. You may as well flush that check down the toilet. I'm not in this business just to make a living, Brian. I truly believe I can help people. Helping people is what drew me to this specialty. If I'm not helping you, then this is nothing but a circle jerk. and neither one of us needs that."
Brian smiled, not expecting that term to come from such a sophisticated lady. "Speak for yourself. I could use a good circle jerk."
Her dark eyes bore into him with the precision of a laser surgeon. "So long as you approach therapy as a game of wills with your doctor, Brian, you'll never get to the real issues that plague you. This isn't about how skillfully you can hide the ball. This is about peeling away the layers to get to the source of your pain. Until we do that, there's no way to treat your wounds."
He frowned, leaned back in his chair, stared through the window at a bleak winter's day in Manhattan. He would kill for a cigarette, but he knew her rule on that. She was right, of course. He'd spent two sessions telling her why he didn't need her help. He understood her frustration. "I don't like to talk about myself, Lydia."
"Which makes you atypical. But we've established that. Brian, therapy is all about self- revelation and understanding. Shall we take some baby steps to see if we can make some progress?"
"What do you mean?"
"Tell me your goal. What do you hope to accomplish with these sessions?"
"Having the pleasure of your company?"
"You can leave the Irish charm at the door. It has no currency with me. Nor does your pretty face or any of your other weapons. So let's talk straight. What is your goal?"
He sighed, and clasped his hands together as he leaned his forearms on his thighs and stared down at his shoes. "This is not about being gay."
"Why do you say that?'
"Because you shrinks always put everything off on being gay. I made peace with that fact of life a long time ago."
"When was that, Brian? When did you make that peace?"
Brian shifted his weight uncomfortably. That question hit too close to home. "Straight people always assume a gay man is like Hamlet, melancholy, guilt ridden and suicidal. I'm no Hamlet."
"I see. Which of those descriptive terms would you not apply to yourself?"
He smoothed the dark fabric of his Prada suit with his palms and sighed. "You're good, Lydia."
"That's why you pay me the big bucks. Now don't evade my question."
"I'm not melancholy, for one thing."
"No? Describe melancholy to me."
"Sad. Mopey. Self-obssessed.."
"You don't feel sad?"
"Sometimes," he admitted. "Everyone does sometimes."
"What makes you sad? What are you thinking about when you feel melancholy?"
His mind filled with images. The first time he saw Justin on Liberty Avenue. Their first fuck. The dance at Justin's prom. The bashing. Their reunion, the sex, their disintegration, Justin leaving. His father, Jack, backhanding him when he was a kid, berating him every fucking day he lived in that house, then dying on him like he did. His smug religious fanatic mother rejecting him when he came out to her. The list of what made him sad was endless and painful. "I don't get sad," he lied.
She folded her glasses and peered evenly at him. "Pay for this session and go home, Brian. Come back when you're ready to work at it."
He was surprised by how much he didn't want to lose his time with this woman. Maybe she didn't see it, but he felt he was helped by these sessions. They forced him to think, and examine his life. "Ok, ok, I guess I get sad sometimes. But I'm not guilt-ridden."
"Tell me one thing that makes you feel guilty?"
He crosses and uncrosses his long legs. He grimaces. Cheating on Justin, flaunting it at him, never telling him how he feels about him. Being gay when his parents wanted a straight son, leaving his own son behind in Pittsburgh. Breaking hearts of tricks who wanted more from him. Never being able to return Mikey's love. "All those starving kids in China when I leave my oatmeal in my bowl."
"You testing me, Brian?"
He sighed. "Guilt is a waste of time."
"How about suicide? When did you last contemplate suicide?"
Brian stared up at the plaster medallion on the ceiling surrounding the light fixture. This morning? Last night? An hour ago? "Never."
"Never?" She asked and he shrugged.
"Never. I like my life."
"Never attempted it?"
Brian recalled his thirtieth birthday. Hanging that silk scarf from the rafters of his loft in the Pitt. Slipping it around his neck. Standing on a chair and jerking off while slowly cutting off the supply of oxygen to his brain. He told himself it was for the thrill of auto-asphixiation, the ultimate orgasm. But if Mikey hadn't interrupted him, would he be here now? Was that a bad thing or a good thing? He never had a consistent answer to that question. "No, never," he said. "I don't even fuck bareback. If I was suicidal, that would be the most pleasurable way to go. Contract a fatal disease from some blond's tight ass."
"That would be a slow and debilitating way to go, Brian. Also hit or miss, depending on your partner. While you may indeed get a fatal illness from it, its not sure fire. So its more reckless and foolish than directly suicidal. Safe sex is not proof of emotional stability, but it is a point in your favor. Why do you think you prefer a series of anonymous sexual encounters, Brian? What does that behavior do for your ego?"
"Not my ego, Lydia, my dick. It does things for my dick. I like sex. I like getting off. I like getting off a lot and I like the conquest of strange sex."
"What do you like about these conquests? Because the frequency and the pleasure you can get from one lover."
"It's not the same."
"Tell me why?"
"One lover becomes needy. It stops being all about the sex and starts being all about the person. That's when things get messy. I like an orderly life, an orderly existence. Relationships are messy. Who needs that shit?"
"I don't know. You, maybe?"
The image of Justin comes into his mind. Standing on that street corner the night they met. Lit beneath blue lights as they danced at the prom. Gleaming with water as he pressed against him in the shower. Sleeping like a baby on the pillow beside his. Kissing him. Fucking him. Leaving him. His brows knit together in consternation. His throat closed and he felt tears burn behind his eyes like acid. His face grew hot and he knew his skin had become red and mottled. He rolled his tongue along the inside surface of his jaw to soothe himself, but it did no good. He blinked and tears broke and rolled down his cheeks. He quickly blotted them on the back of his hand. He started to get up, but Lydia reached over and closed a strong hand on his forearm. "Let it go. You're safe here."
He considered that for a moment, wondering how liberating it would be to sit here and cry like a baby. As good as that sounded, he forced her hand away and stood, "Big boys don't cry, Lydia."
"Brian you can't live with this pain. If I'm not the person to help you, let me find someone who is."
"I'm ok," he said softly, desperate to get out of there fast; "See you next week."
"I pray to God that's true," she thought to herself, watching the tall, handsome young man walk away, hoping he would not abandon his decision to get help fighting his demons.
Brian decided to walk back to his office, despite the wintry day. He needed the extra time to regain his composure and reconstruct his cocky attitude. The cold air on his face neutralized the blood of emotion. He checked his watch, then called his secretary on his mobile. He had just completed a successful pitch yesterday. For one brief moment, his workload was a little light. She told him his calendar was clear, he told her he may or may not come back in. She could reach him on his mobile, if necessary. He diverted to one of the few remaining gay bars in midtown since the clean up. Most were now in Chelsea, Soho or the Village. But he liked this place because it had a non-predatory feel, an older crowd. He never felt pressured to score. He could drink around like-minded men without having to look and act like a stud.
"Hi Brian," the bartender greeted him.
"Hi Josh. The usual." Josh was the cutest of the bartenders here, a struggling actor, and all around nice guy. He and Brian were often the youngest men in the place, so they often chatted.
"Early for you, bro. Something wrong?" Josh asked.
"Why do you ask that?"
"You usually stop by after work, not during. I wouldn't be on this shift, but I'm covering for Bob. He's having that prostate procedure." The two young men shared a grimace and a wince. Getting old was hell. "Great suit, man."
Brian glanced down at the Prada. "Thanks, I've had it awhile."
"Classy. You always dress so well."
"That's because you always see me in work clothes. On my own time its still jeans and t-shirts." He downed the whiskey and asked for another. He offered to buy one for Josh as he surveyed the room. A few business men looking for nooners, some tourists, a couple retired regulars, who just hung out for the camaraderie. Vic would fit in fine here.
"You live in Chelsea?" Josh asked, drawing a beer for himself on Brian's tab.
"No, I have a loft in Soho. Iron fronted building, very old. You?"
"Chelsea. Tiny little flat I share with two other guys. Hate it. Those Soho lofts cost a fortune, don't they?"
Brian shrugged. "Not cheap, that's for sure."
"You live alone?"
He thought of Justin and winced. "Yeah, I like my privacy."
"I'm off in fifteen minutes, Brian. You want to hook up?"
Brian glanced into the bartender's pretty blue eyes and that old black magic began to bubble up in him as he smiled wryly and began to feel a little better about his life.
Justin was on his third espresso, and feeling wired as he sat in a quiet café across from Brian's loft address in Soho. He could watch for his arrival, and stay warm. Brian's secretary said he was taking the afternoon off, so Justin expected him soon. He left no message, wanting to surprise him. While he waited, he tried to think of what to say. So far, nothing was coming to him. His mobile rang, and he answered it, hearing his current lover's voice. The suspicion was heavy in his tone and Justin got his back up just hearing the unspoken accusation. "I told you, I'm talking to a gallery owner about showing a couple of my pieces in his spring exhibition. Don't make me go through this again." That much was true. He did have that opportunity. "No," he lied, cringing at his own duplicity. "I have no intention of seeing Brian. Millions of people live here. Why should I bump into Brian?" He felt bad after he hung up. He was a terrible liar, but if he told him he was going to look up Brian, he'd never hear the last of it. Why shouldn't his lover be angry? He was right. The ghost of Brian haunted their relationship.
Finally, he saw two tall, lanky men emerge from a taxi at the curb in front of the loft. The one in an expensive suit was definitely Brian. The one in tight jeans, a sweater and a leather jacket was definitely Brian's trick. As Brian entered a code on the entry box, the other man kissed the back of his neck and ran his hand across his ass. Justin watched them disappear into the building, feeling suddenly foolish. What the fuck was he doing here? He had someone who loved him back in Pittsburgh. Brian would never change, never return his affection and fidelity. He had been through this war, it was over. He just wanted a lasting peace. His view of Brian as some kind of tragic figure, pining away for their lost love, was just a hoax. Brian was Brian and pining away was not his style.
He saw the lights go on in a third floor loft, as he called for the check. He wondered if he could get back to Pittsburgh tonight, rather than waiting for his morning flight. Suddenly, Brian was standing at the glass overlooking the street where the café was located. He had shed his jacket, and Justin could imagine what would happen next. He could almost feel him looking at him through the bay window of the café, almost feel the impact of his gaze. He paid his tab, slipped into his down coat and walked towards the corner to hail a cab. Sleet had begun to form arrows that pierced his exposed skin. He almost welcomed the pain as a distraction. Taxis came and went, but none pulled over for him.
"Try stepping off the curb and holding your arm out, they can see you better. Of course, they may well run you down, but at least they may stop after they do so."
Justin looked up at Brian and realized he had come out in the weather with his shirt untucked and half buttoned, his feet bare, his belt loosened. He had to be freezing. His face was red with exertion and exposure, and Justin shook his head slowly.
"Are you crazy? You'll get pneumonia."
"I had to stop you," his teeth were chattering as the adrenaline rush passed and he began to feel the intensity of the cold. Justin took off his jacket and placed it over Brian's shoulders, huddling into his own sweater as they crossed the street and entered the loft warehouse in silence.
"Is he still up there?" Justin asked in the elevator and Brian shook his head, rubbing his arms briskly to revive his circulation.
"Look he's just a friend."
"Come on, Brian. You never lied about that shit when we were together, why now?"
"It's true. This would have been our first time to have sex. I was closing the blinds and I saw you in that café. I often see you, or guys I think are you, on the street, so I didn't react at first." Brian opened the metal door and Justin felt a sense of deja vue as he saw many familiar pieces of furnishing and artwork in a rustic, exposed setting. But there were new things as well, and this loft was much bigger than the other. Some areas were walled off from the open center. There was a fireplace with a fire burning behind a glass shield and above it was one of Justin's oil paintings, a work Brian admired.
"Nice," Justin said as Brian stood before the fireplace, warming his hands and feet. He slipped into a cashmere sweater and some leather slippers before he slung his lanky body across an oversized taupe suede chair with matching ottoman. Also new.
"Now that you've exposed me to death by upper respiratory infection, maybe you should tell me what the fuck you are doing here and why the fuck you were leaving?"
"Can I use your bathroom?" The espresso had wound its way through his kidneys and Brian made a gesture towards a door. Justin went in, closing the door behind him. That was something they never bothered to do while living together. He touched Brian's navy silk robe hanging on the door. He opened the cap to his facial scrub, inhaling the citrus scent. He saw that the oversized shower had two shower heads and a bench, imagining how perfect it was for sex. There was a bidet as well as a toilet, and his thick black towels were embroidered with a single initial, K, in silver thread.
"No room for anyone here," Justin thought to himself, the place was so perfectly Brian.
And then he noticed in the magazine rack beside the toilet, the corner of a tablet. He withdrew it, flipping through pencil sketches he did of Brian when they first met. He wondered where this had gone. He might have been insulted to find it in the bathroom, but he was strangely comforted by it. As he replaced it, he saw that on the ledge with Brian's European shampoo and shower gel was Justin's pink, net scrub ball. The rope that fit over his hand was broken, the layers of meshy net were coming unraveled. Brian used to tease him about that affectation all the time. He was shocked to see it there, as if waiting to be used by him again.
"Fall in?" Brian asked with a bemused smile when he emerged, and Justin sat down on the couch, facing him.
"Are you happy, Brian?"
"Are you taking a poll?"
"At least give me the courtesy of being serious."
"No, I won't," he got up, poured himself a drink, offered one to Justin, who declined.
"Little early, isn't it?"
"No, Mom, it's not. I have milk if you want it."
"I'll pass. Why can't you be serious with me?"
"Justin, you lost your privileges to ask me personal questions when you walked out that door."
Justin nodded, finding that reasonable. "You never answered them when we lived together, so why now?"
"Which is one reason I walked out that door, Brian. Your emotional unavailability."
"You came all the way to New York to confirm that you made the right decision? That was stupid. I could have told you that over the phone."
"I don't want to change, Justin. I'm satisfied with who I am."
"Are you, Brian? Really? Then why can't you sleep?"
"Too much caffeine?"
"That's it," Justin grabbed his jacket and backpack, but Brian intercepted him before he could get to the door. He held tightly to both arms, refusing to release him.
"You can't just show up in my hood without any notice at all and ask me all these questions while I'm in the dark about why you're here. What do you hope to accomplish? Where's your little wifey is in all this drama? It's not fair."
Justin was taken aback by this display of angry emotion, and he reached up to spread his hand on Brian's cheek, feeling him tremble beneath it. "I'm not here to hurt you."
"Good, because you did a pretty good job of that in Pittsburgh. I don't care for a repeat performance," he said softly, backing away from him and returning to the chair and his whiskey. Justin followed, sitting on the couch again. Brian had never before revealed the fact that he felt pain over Justin's leaving him. The shock of that admission was stunning. Justin always suspected it was painful for his lover, he knew enough Brian-to-English vocabulary to translate his unspoken emotions. But this verbal outcry was new.
"I didn't want to leave you, Brian. I just saw no future for us."
"And you had someone else in the wings to open that road for you. Don't leave out that element, Sonny Boy."
"Yes, that's true. You wouldn't do anything to change direction, Brian. You wouldn't give me any concession. And that's ok. You're who you are and you shouldn't change because I want you to. You should only change if you want to, if something is important enough to cause you to make a concession."
"It's not that easy. I'd been alive thirty years by the time I met you, Justin. And a lot of damage had been done in that time. I had a lot of crap to deal with. Still do. It's not just about you, or you and me, or my emotional unavailability or promiscuity or any of that shit. It's about scars you weren't there to see. I can't unravel my DNA because you give me an ultimatum, and remake myself to suit your image."
"I never wanted that. I love you as you are. I just wanted you to change some behaviors, give me something to cling to that resembled a committed relationship."
Brian stood, picked up the phone, ordered pizza, hung it up. "Don't blow it, don't blow it," he told himself, but he could feel this opportunity slipping away and he didn't know how to stop it. "What if I told you I am working on some of those long term issues that led to the behaviors?"
Justin perked up. "What kind of work are you doing? Therapy? I begged you to go to therapy."
Brian started to admit it, then fell back into that mode of seeing it as a weakness. "Well, I…"
"No, of course not. Therapy is for pussies, that's what you always said," Justin sighed. "Well, relationships are not for pussies, Brian. Relationships are hard. You have to be willing to do the work. You remind me of a man who fell through the ice and got carried on the current. He keeps clawing at the ice over his head. He can see the light, the surface, but he just can't break out and he's suffocating as he struggles."
Brian winced. What a perfect analogy for how he felt. The feelings were there beneath the surface, but he couldn't claw them out with a pickax. And so he was dying in small increments, deprived of oxygen, swallowing cold water by the bucket until his insides were as frigid as his exterior. "Tell me about your art," he said in a soft whisper, and Justin sighed and gave him that break. He knew when he hit a wall with Brian. He would go back to Pittsburgh, no progress made. It was still impossible. Brian was still unwilling to do anything for himself. How could Justin take a chance if Brian was unwilling to do so? The pizza finally arrived, and Brian went downstairs to meet the courier and pay for the food.
As soon as he left, the phone rang. Justin picked it up, without thinking.
"Brian, it's Lydia…Dr. Johnson."
"I called your office. They said you took the day off. I've been worried about you since you left the session today. I want to know that you're doing alright. I want to ensure you come back Thursday for your next session. I know twice a week is expensive and time consuming, but right now, at this early stage, it's what you need. We came very close to a breakthrough today, Brian. I know it was painful, I know tears do not come easily to you, but that's how we're going to get down to that pain center and help it go away."
Justin almost dropped the phone. He felt intrusive, but at the same time elated that Brian was truly taking steps, steps he was too proud to admit to taking. "Yes, I…"
"I won't keep you. A day to reflect is a good thing. You call me at home if you feel a blue meanie coming on, you hear me? And make sure you take those anti-depressants religiously, no matter what your outward mood."
Justin hung up just as Brian came in with two boxes of aromatic pizza. "Who was that?" Brian asked, and Justin gnawed his lower lip, wondering if he should lie. Brian would be furious, but he would be even more angry when his doctor mentioned the call and he put it together.
"Lydia?" Brian said casually, but his tense jaw belied his reaction.
"Yes. She was just checking up on you."
"Umm. You talked to her?" Brian threw him a roll of paper towels and opened the first box on the coffee table.
"I think she thought I was you."
"I see. And you didn't set her straight, am I right?"
Justin nodded. Brian took a wedge of pizza and bit into it. "Fuck you."
"I'm sorry Brian."
"Sure you are. Well, there you go. Now you know. I have a shrink."
"I'm so proud of you."
"Fuck that! This is for me, not you, not anyone else. Me!"
"I know. And that makes me incredibly happy and hopeful."
Brian cast him a glance out of the corner of his eye. "I still think its bullshit."
He cried during his session. Justin knew any therapist who could get Brian close enough to his emotions to cry during a session was no bullshit slinger, and he knew Brian knew it too.
"Ok maybe so, but at least you're going."
"When are you leaving?"
"Not sure…" Justin said ambiguously. "Someone promised to show me whether he still had blue lights over his bed, and I haven't seen that yet."
"Wifey may not like that tour."
"Wifey always suspected I was a sucker for blue lights, especially over a bed." Justin knew, and suspected his lover knew, if there was ever any hope of a real relationship with Brian, his choice was made. From the beginning, there was no bullshit between them on that point. He entered into an affair with Justin, knowing the risk, knowing who held first option on his heart. He just lived with the hope that Brian was a tiger incapable of changing his stripes. Yes, Justin lied about not planning to see Brian while in New York, but he suspected that lie was transparent.
Brian stopped short of smiling. "Where are you staying?"
"Not sure about that either. No reservation."
Brian laughed. "Typical. Come to New York with no place to stay."
Justin spread his hand on Brian's arm, smiling slightly. "I have friends with kind hearts in the big city."
Brian looked down at his hand and then at his face. He struggled to restrain his response, to remain cool. "Why not give them a call?"
"It can wait. He's an insomniac, he never sleeps," Justin teased.
"Maybe he doesn't like sleeping alone."
"He never has to sleep alone."
"Maybe he doesn't like sleeping without you."
Justin paused, smiled, moved closer to him on the couch. "Maybe he doesn't have to sleep without me," he said, resting his head on Brian's shoulder. Brian leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips, then sighed. "Pepperoni or sausage?"
"Surprise me," Justin said, already feeling strangely at home in this alien environment.
"I always do," Brian responded and Justin smiled. Yes, he always did, and maybe that was as much a part of his charm as it was infuriating and complex. Silence fell between them, pizza got eaten, night descended and something began, again, something bigger than both their inhibitions combined. Brian fell asleep in Justin's arms, secure at last. Justin watched him sleep for awhile, knowing it wouldn't be smooth, it wouldn't be easy, but sometimes the prize warranted the struggle. "I love you, Brian," he whispered into the still night. This time, Brian's silent response was inadvertent, but Justin felt his answer in his embrace, in the trust that allowed him to relax with him, in his seeking to open the closed doors of his psyche. This time, Justin was sure of his answer, and he smiled and closed his eyes, home at last under the soft blue glow of neon.
|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