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Marry Me

This story picks up four years after Justin tracks down Brian in Venice, in my story, "Just Ask Me", where the couple reconciles after a period of separation. Now, Justin is 37, Brian is turning fifty in two days. Gus would be twenty. Because the canon of the show is not clear about dates, I gave Brian Gale's birthday, July 10th. This is just an experiment to show again one man's fantasy of how our favorite couple may find their way in the future.

On top of a gentle hill in Tuscany, stands an ancient stucco mansion. The house is painted a faded shade of puce. Flame-shaped Italian cypress trees flank the entrance. Behind the house are sloping terraces of grape vines. The fruit is used only to make wine. Old stone walls support the terraces that are shaded by groves of olive trees. Closer to the mansion is a cultivated garden overflowing with blood red poppies and almond scented pink and white bind weed. Hummingbird moths hover over the blooms while swifts perform aerial dives, striking the moths to feed their young.

Off to one side is a vegetable patch staked with ripening tomatoes and a variety of herbs. A young man is turning the soil with a spade in order to plant more tomato stalks. His ebony hair gleams blue under the harsh late morning sun, and he has removed his shirt to combat the heat. His muscles ripple from his effort and his skin is slick with sweat. He pauses, picks up the oversized watering can and suspends the spout over his head. He closes his eyes and lifts his chin to greet the sprinkle of water that cascades through his hair, over his face and down the cut muscles of his torso.

He uses his free hand to smooth the water over his skin, letting the denim of his faded jeans absorb the runoff. His features are like the image on an ancient Roman coin. I regret the fact I don't have a sketchpad and pencil to capture this moment of beauty as I admire him from the veranda outside the double doors of my bedroom. My hand absently drops down my own belly, testing the tautness of my abs. It slips under the thin veil of my silk robe to grasp my cock, which lengthens immediately. I'm inspired by this vision of youthful male perfection.

"Jerking to Mario again?" I hear Brian's voice, taunting me, and then feel the pressure of his body behind mine. He is naked. He is fit, slim, his muscles toned, his skin smooth. It all seems so effortless with him, as if he were born to be beautiful his whole life. I'm one of the few who knows how hard he works at it, now that he is turning fifty. His ego knows no limits; he refuses to go quietly into what he calls "the final deterioration." He is a long way from that, and his dick proves it by stiffening against my ass with no encouragement from me.

I lean against him, hooking one arm behind his neck. My head just fits under his chin. His silver streaked goatee brushes me, burying his chin in my blond spikes. I slide my hand up the back of his neck, then his head, separating his thick hair with my fingers. Even now, he's lost none of that mane. It's turned from chestnut, to chestnut under a frost of silver ice, but on him it looks good. Mario is beautiful, a fantasy boy, the same age I was when I first met Brian. Seventeen. That was twenty years ago. I wonder if Mario's as innocent as I was the night we met. I wonder if he'll be as lucky as I was in finding a first lover. I doubt it. Male or female, few are so lucky. Perhaps no one is.

One of his hands wraps mine as it strokes my cock, while the other raises my robe to reveal my ass. With my assistance, he penetrates me smoothly, my body molded to his cock. The years we've spent perfecting this act aren't lost on the moment. I lean my palms on the wall of the veranda as my pleasure rises and peaks under his knowing lunges. He leans down and bites my shoulder, just hard enough to thrill, not so hard that it hurts. His sweat rolls down his temple to splatter my skin. We look at Mario for visual titillation, but neither of us would substitute the other for his perfection. We know how transient his beauty is. We've both had that beauty, and more. We've finally learned what really matters and, strangely, we lost no passion in that knowledge.

Afterwards, we soak together in the oversized sunken tiled tub in the bathroom off our suite. We drink small cups of very black coffee that we poise on the ledge, together with glasses of orange juice the color of freshly drawn blood. Blood oranges are one of Italy's little treasures, and the nectar is delicate and sweet, without the citrus burn of conventional oranges. There is a faint scent of lemon in the bathwater, for our valet always adds a few twists, claiming it's good for the skin. Brian leans his back against the end of the tub, arms outstretched. I lean the back of my head against one of his arms, our legs entwined, our dicks floating free at the water line, like buoys.

"How much time do we have?" He asks lazily as a summer breeze moves the sheer draperies covering the open windows. A butterfly flitters in, hovers over us for a moment, decides we are not flowers, and escapes. I smile. Tuscany is like living in a Disney film. It's magical, mystical, impossibly beautiful, and RIDICULOUSLY romantic. I laugh at his question. "The trains in Italy are never on time, Bri. You know that. We have hours."

"I don't want to miss him. I don't want him to think we were too busy to watch the clock."

I smile up at his classic profile. This is the first time we've seen his son in several months. Gus is twenty now. He's spent the summer backpacking around Europe with friends from Georgetown University, where he's a pre-med student. Conceived by way of Brian's jerking off into a cup and donating it to Gus's mother, he was raised by a lesbian couple. Despite that lack of convention, he is a straight arrow kid, a scholar, and a nice person. We are all proud of Gus, and each of us feels that we hold a little stake in his future. "Bri, we won't be late. Don't worry."

He taps my shoulder to move me and leaves the tub, wrapping a bath sheet around his slim hips as he pads, dripping, into the bedroom. Sighing, I join him. I know that when he's like this, there's no way to move him towards a more rational approach. So, we'll dress, drive into town, and sit in the heat on a narrow wooden bench, awaiting a train that is always, predictably, late. And that's exactly what we do.

Sitting on that bench in the sun, I glimpse his implacable face as he leisurely smokes a cigarette. Dressed in white linen, he resembles a leading man cast in a Fellini film. His looks are edged with a slight shadow of decadence that makes him even more interesting. He meets my eyes. "What's your problem, Sunshine? Gonna tell me ‘I told you so' about the fucking train being late?"

"No, just wondering how you stayed so beautiful at your advanced age."

He leans back, suppressing a smile. "Fuck you."

"I'm serious."

"I guess its that painting you did of me that is moldering in the attic."

"The painting I did of you hangs over our bed."

"Haven't you noticed how my face in it has become lined and saggy?" He teases, and I laugh and pat his hand.

"No, Dorian, I guess I'll look at it more closely."

He reaches out and cups my chin. What does he see when he stares at my face? The features are still there, but that little blond vision of a twink is long gone. At thirty-seven, I've managed to keep trim and my skin is good, but I look my age and I know it. "You're the one who never changes," he says softly. "I don't get it. You look exactly the way you did that first night, walking out of the mist on Liberty Street in Pittsburgh."

I realize he's serious and I smile. What keeps us both so beautiful to the other is the love we share. It blinds us to the inevitable imperfections of age, and weds us to a memory of how we once were, so will we always be. "Shut up," I tease and he smiles and releases me.

"Brat," he says with affectionate sarcasm.

The train arrives. We both stand. I sense his nervousness. He's always a little nervous when reunited with Gus. His relationship with his own father was horrendous. He carefully guards his connection to his son to avoid those traps. People flow from the train and as the platform becomes crowded, his impatience increases. "There he is!" I proclaim, motioning towards a handsome youth who stands head and shoulders above the crowd.

He's as tall and slim as his father, but his hair is streaked with blond and he has the brown eyes of his mother, rather than Brian's muddy hazel gaze. He's a beautiful young man with a radiant smile and a personality more like his mother's sweet and open demeanor than like Brian's brooding, self-protective shell. "Dad!" He calls out, cutting through the crowd to reach us. He wears khaki walking shorts and a pocket t-shirt with his hiking boots. A bulky knapsack is strapped to broad shoulders.

"Hey Sonny Boy," Brian sticks out his hand to be shaken, but Gus bypasses it to hug him tightly and Brian smiles as he returns that affectionate greeting. I beam as I watch them, and then Gus turns and embraces me.

"Hi Justin, you look great!" He even feels like Brian, and I buss his cheek as he releases me. He is tanned from his wandering, and in need of a haircut. But he is our baby, all grown up, and I'm delighted to see him.

"Dad, Justin, I want you to meet someone."

In the glow of reunion, we didn't even notice the young woman lingering in the background. She is dressed almost identically to Gus. Her long auburn hair is pulled back in a braid, and she has a pretty, inquisitive face, unmasked with makeup, and bright green eyes. "This is Marie-Claire," Gus is saying. "Honey, this is my Dad, Brian, and his partner, Justin." Gus has no reservations about our relationship. While he's straight, his whole childhood was spent in the gay community, and he doesn't quarter prejudice.

She is gracious as she shakes our hands, displaying a faintly French accent as she tells us how much she has heard about us and how happy she is to meet us. I drive the Mercedes home, so Brian can gaze over the seat and talk to his son and his son's unexpected companion. "So how did you two meet?" Brian cuts to the chase, and I pity the poor girl who is being scrutinized by his mute appraisal. She seems up to the task, holding Gus's hand tightly as she answers for him.

"Gus and I are in school together. At Georgetown. We're both going to be doctors."

Brian fixes his stare on his son. "So when you told me you were bumming around Europe with friends, you meant you were bumming around Europe with Marie-Claire."

Gus shrugs. "There were more of us. We left them in Venice to come here and visit you. I wanted to be here for your birthday. The big 5-0, Dad," he teases and Brian glares at him.

"I'm aware of my own age, Sonny Boy. You're French, Marie-Claire?"

"Quebec," she responds. "And call me MC. Everyone does."

He turns back around, meeting my challenging gaze with an impassive raise of a brow. Be nice, I am silently warning him. Fuck off, he is silently responding.

When we are alone in our room, with Gus and his friend given time to freshen up in private, I sit on the edge of the bed, watching him pace. "I don't like her."

"She is absolutely charming and quite pretty," I defend her, and he glares at me.

"She's French," he says, as if it's a disease and I smile.

"French-Canadian," I correct him. "And so what? She must be intelligent if she's in pre-med at Georgetown. It's not as if he brought home a lap dancer. What's really bugging you, Bri?"

"He's too young for..."

"For what?"

"To be serious about anyone. He has years of school in front of him."

"He's 20, plenty old enough for a serious relationship, and what does school have to do with love? He can't have both?"

"Whose side are you on?" He exclaims in frustration and I stand and walk over to him, holding him in my arms as I feel him tense.

"I'm always on your side, Bri. I love you. I don't want to see you make a mistake. You can't insert yourself between a man and the person he loves without getting gored. Give her a chance. And it may just be a summer infatuation."

He sighs, and rests his forehead against the top of my head. "You're right. It's probably nothing, just a passing fancy. Why should he be celibate? You don't think she looks a little dyke-y?"

I laugh. "In that get up, anyone would look a little dyke-y. But no, Brian, I think she's straight and I think she's adorable."

He releases me and flops down on the bed, staring at the lazy motion of the ceiling fan as my portrait of him, painted when he was 32, standing naked before a window, gazes down as if to offer him peace. I leave him there, knowing he needs time to work this out for himself.

I never tire of the sun setting over the hills of Tuscany. I've tried to capture the rose, gold and brilliant oranges on canvas, but have never been satisfied with the results. Sipping a cocktail and leaning back on a chaise as dusk descends, I feel that quiet happiness that dominates my current emotions. "This is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth," I hear our female guest proclaim. "Would you prefer to enjoy this view in solitude?"

I glance over my shoulder at her and motion to a chaise beside me. Brian usually sits there, but I presume he fell asleep while pondering his son's future. "Absolutely not. Please." She sits; a servant appears to take a drink order from her. Being in Italy, she makes the mistake of so many tourists and orders Campari and lime, or as I think of it, cough medicine with a twist.

She has transformed herself by changing into a simple emerald green silk slip dress. It's short on her lean thighs and enhances the color of her eyes. Her long reddish brown hair is loose and hangs to the mid-point of her back. I am not so gay that I can't recognize how beautiful she is. I compliment her, and she smiles and thanks me. I ask where Gus is, and she explains she let him sleep, that he didn't rest much during their journey. I'm sure the pretty glow to her complexion has a genesis in sex, and I smile at the idea of our little Gus getting some.

"Where is Mr. Kinney?" She asks and I wince.

"Don't call him that unless you have a death wish. It would age him tremendously, and he's a little sensitive about his age right now."

"Why?" She asks with innocent incredulity. "He's a very handsome and successful man. He has no reason to fear his age."

"He's also a very vain man, who never expected to live this long. He has no idea how to be fifty."

She shrugs as she looks around the quiet setting and sips her drink. "I should say he has done very well at being fifty. A best selling book following a successful career in advertising, no financial worries, good health, good looks and a devoted lover. What more can a man ask?"

"Happiness for his children?" Brian has entered the scene with panther stealth. He changed out his white linen for black linen. Black was always his color. He looks gorgeous as he leans his back against the balustrade of the veranda. Our servant appears with his usual drink, and he holds it without tasting it and orders the man, in Italian, to prepare some canapés.

She smiles boldly at him. "Happiness for others is a beautiful wish."

I see his gaze take in her dress, her hair, her smile and I know he is calculating how pretty she is, compared to her arrival. "First time in Italy, MC?"

"No, my father was in the diplomatic corps of Quebec. We lived in Milan for awhile when I was small."

"I see. It must be very strange for you, coming from a traditional family, to be confronted with Gus's unique family structure."

"Strange?" She shrugs. "I have met Lindsay and Melanie, and I think they are a delightful couple. Very loving. Lindsay is a wonderful mother to Gus and so is Melanie. How lucky he is to have two doting moms. And two doting dads. My parents divorced when I was fourteen. There was another woman involved. It was a very ugly and hateful split. I don't see the advantage there at all, Brian."

He raises a brow and shrugs. "Gus took plenty of flak from homophobes while growing up. He had to be tough to endure it."

"He is tough," she said. "Tough and gentle, at once. He told me you two have been together since he was born."

I meet Brian's gaze and smile. "Well, off and on. I was only seventeen at the time. I had a lot of growing up to do. But I never fell out of love with Brian since the first night I saw him climbing into his jeep with his friends. We've had our separations, but we always found each other again, and this one is for keeps. We're too old to boomerang."

He smirks at me. "Don't get too complacent, Sunshine. You never know."

I laugh. "Yeah, right. Fuck you."

"Now? In front of our guest?"

Marie-Claire laughs at our exchange, showing no offense. "You make a beautiful couple. I loved your novel, Brian. I found it to be a mesmerizing account of a man's life. The fact he was gay seemed almost incidental to me. So many of his experiences are universal, and your writing style is so compelling."

Nothing pleases Brian more than a sincere compliment about his novel. The book, written while we were separated, earned a fortune worldwide, and is still selling. It enabled him to take early retirement from advertising, and here we are. He is working on a sequel, and his advance alone will keep us in opulent decadence for a long while. "I suppose Gus made you read it," he says, and she smiles. "I read it before I ever met Gus. But I re-read it after we met."

"You read it twice?" He is genuinely surprised and she nods.

"It's the kind of book one can read over and over again. There's always something new to be learned from it."

I beam at her, encouraging this line of conversation. If she wants to win over Brian, she picked the right way to do it. He pulls a chair up to face us, crossing his long legs on the edge of my chaise. I casually drape a hand over his shoe as he says, "So what's going on with you and my son?"

"Maybe you should ask me that, Dad," Gus joins us, cleaned up nicely in a silk shirt and gray pants. We all look up at him as Marie-Claire slips into his arms. Brian doesn't retreat. Did Gus really think he would?

"Ok, I'm asking. What's the story?"

"I love MC, Dad. I've asked her to marry me."

One-two-three...heartbeats, in complete silence, then Brian says, "After a long engagement I suppose."

"No, not really. We want to get married before we go back to Georgetown in the fall. Nothing elaborate. Just family and close friends."

I see the tension clench in Brian's jaw and he downs his whiskey and demands another as the canapés arrive.

"Congratulations!" I try to de-fuse the situation by grabbing the young couple in a joint embrace. I kiss her cheek and Gus leans down to brush my cheek with his lips. Brian glowers at us from my chaise, having taken it over.

"You never said if she accepted," he points out and Gus beams at him.


"I told Gus I would be very honored and privileged to be his wife, Brian. I love him very much."

Brian laughs cynically. "Love. Love and pain and the whole damn thing. What the hell do two twenty year old kids know about love?"

Marie-Claire is unwavering as she meets his eyes. "I know I want the kind of relationship that you have with Justin. A love that is for keeps. Love that accommodates, bends, changes with time, but remains affectionate, always."

"Is that what you see?" He asks coyly. "Well, why not? You haven't been around for the angst, the agonies, the doubts, the separations, the fucking around, the anger, and the uncertainty. All you see is two men who managed to survive together against all odds. Often against their own better judgment. Its not the kind of thing Ovid engraves on marble tablets."

I feel as if someone has thrown a metal lasso around my heart and drawn it tight. I can barely breathe. My face grows hot, my throat constricts. I stare at him in wonder, but he is looking at his son.

"What a lousy thing to say, Dad!" Gus defends angrily, but Brian doesn't retreat.

"Grow up, Gus. This isn't a romance novel. This is real life. And real life is not pretty. You have no idea what you really want in a partner, and neither does she. You are going to anchor yourself to someone based on sexual magnetism, and wake up two years from now, look at each other and wonder how the hell you got where you are. With no easy way out."

I take a step back, into the evening shadows. I just want to be gone from here, and as soon as I feel the temperature drop in darkness, I turn and walk away.

"Justin!" I hear him call me, but I am sprinting out the front door, grabbing the keys to the Mercedes from the Murano bowl on the table as I go. I drive down the dusty road leading from the house at a high rate of speed, kicking up a veil of dust as I go. I am so upset and so distracted; I barely stop in time to avoid hitting a man who emerges from the shadows at the gates. The heavy car spins in the loose earth and winds up facing the house. I pound the wheel and lower the electronic window to glare at him. "Mario, I almost ran you down!"

He is dressed in khakis and a clean oxford cloth shirt. His wet hair is combed back. He is obviously meeting someone special, and he looks so painfully young, my heart shrinks even more than before.

"Mr. Taylor, you give me ride to town, no?"

I sigh, wanting to be alone. But I nod. He climbs in beside me, thanking me profusely. "You ok, Mr. Taylor?"

I answer only by turning the car around and heading towards town. "Date?" I finally inquire when I think I can trust my voice again. Even in darkness, I can tell he's blushing. He fidgets with his hands that suddenly seem too big for his arms.

"She's not a date, she's friend."

"Well, it often starts that way. Pretty?"

"Like you, blonde, very pretty."

Like me blond or like me pretty, I wonder? "Good, Mario. I'm happy for you."

"You ever like the woman, Mr. Taylor?"

I smile. "I like the woman very much, Mario. I just like to sleep with the man."

"Mr. Kinney."

"Yes, mainly Mr. Kinney," I say quietly. "That bother you?" Good Catholic boy that he is.

He shrugs. "I like to sleep with the man too, Mr. Taylor. And the woman."

I widen my eyes at him, and then fix my gaze on the road. "You have a boyfriend?"

"You know Mateo who is boss of vineyards?"

I picture the taciturn Venetian who is probably my age. "He's your lover?"

He shrugs, gnaws on his thumbnail. "I wish it was Mr. Kinney, but he belongs to you."

I suppress a smile. I guess that answers our speculation about if Mario were gay, which of us would he choose? "Don't worry about it, Mario. I've spent most of my life fending off guys who want to fuck Brian." I glance at his handsome profile. "You haven't have you? Its ok, you can tell me, but...have you?"

His thumbnail is getting a work out. He stares out the window. My stomach sinks. "You did, didn't you?" I ask softly and he shakes his head.

"No, Mr. Taylor."

"Right," I say with a cynical laugh, more befitting my lover than me.

"Just the once, he was alone, you were in Paris."

I remember. I had a major gallery show featuring my artwork. Brian joined me after everything was in place for the opening. We had a wonderful, romantic ten days in the City of Lights. I cringe at the knowledge that he came to me fresh from the tight ass of this young demi-god.

"I don't mean the once we were together," he corrects the impression. "We never... he wouldn't..." he shrugs, lost for words. I pull off the road and park, staring at him in the darkness.

"What the hell are you saying, Mario?"

"Just the once, I tried to make Mr. Kinney ... interested."

"That must not have been very difficult."

"He was swimming in the pool, I brought towel and drink to him... he told me to jump in, cool off."

I nod, picturing the scene. Brian always swam in the nude, trailing his long rudder under his belly as he did his laps. Mario strips down, revealing his glorious young body, the rest is easy. Why does it hurt so much? If Mario took a number, the digits would be a zip code. But this one hurts more. Am I hurt because he cheated on me or am I jealous that he nailed Mario and I didn't? Both, I guess. Mario continues in his emerging English, perfecting it by using it on us.

"Mr. Kinney, he say Mario is beautiful boy, but he has beautiful boy of his own, and he's past the time of risking that boy on another."

"He has a ...boy?" I ask miserably and Mario smiles at me.

"You that boy, Mr. Taylor. In his head, you always be that boy."

I stare at him. "You're telling me Brian didn't do anything with you?"

"He kiss me. Like my brother. Then he go in the house. Next day, he leave for Paris."

"Mario, please don't lie to me about this, it's too important."

He closes his hand on my forearm, his dark eyes earnest in the glow off the dash as he says, "Mario don't lie, Mr. Taylor. Mr. Kinney, he love you."

I blink back a hint of tears and turn the engine over, continuing in the journey towards town.

Brian is reading, no glasses necessary since surgery corrected his vision. He is naked in bed, stretched out above the duvet, the fan stirring the still night air. The music he's playing is some old hip-hop classic about getting your body in motion and causing a commotion. He glances over his book at me, then back at the pages again, taking no notice of my striptease.

"Drunk?" He asks casually as I sit beside him and place my hand over the open leaves of the book. It's written in Italian, a language he has picked up like a native.

"Maybe a bit tipsy," I correct him. "I had some drinks with Mario, his buddies, and his girlfriend before I left town to come home."

"You are so pathetic. You let Italians out-drink you."

He has a few pillows behind him to prop his back and I reach over and turn up the music, dancing like a disco fool, wearing nothing but my briefs. He stares at me in mute wonder, and then shakes his head.

"What the hell did you drink? Liquid E? You're flashing back, Village People."

I stop and point a finger at him. "You sir, are a fraud."

"And you madam, are a drama queen."

I laugh and sit at his feet, staring at that great dick of his as I play with his bare toes. "You owe me an apology and you know it."

"For what?" He innocently proclaims. "For making a point with my son? You ran out like a bitch suffering from PMS! You're the one who was rude."

"No, I'm the one who was hurt. You made our relationship sound like the pit and the pendulum."

"Yeah, Vincent Price, tell me what I said that was a lie."

"Like, all of it?"

"Fuck that," he says grumpily, pulling his foot away from me. So I climb his long legs, my palms moving up his ankles to his knees to his thighs to his pelvis, until I am stretched out above him. Parallel with his body, I press my face within inches of his. He doesn't blink.

"We've had our angst and our separations and our moments of pain, Bri, but would you wave goodbye to all that drama if it meant you had to give up the happiness too?"

He cocks a brow, his hazel eyes blinking once. Then he looks away from me, towards the open window. I lean a little closer. "Don't duck me, Bri. Tell me what you feel."

"I feel like you're smothering me right now, get off."

"You're bigger than me. Make me."

"What's next on your playground agenda? Dodge ball, Justy?"

I smile. "Sounds interesting."

He focuses on my face again. "What do you want me to say?"

"Tell me if you would give up the pleasure if it meant you could also be rid of the pain?"

He sighs. "It's a stupid question."

"So give me a stupid answer."

"I gave you your stupid answer years ago when I asked you to come live with me and be my love."

I laugh and kiss him on the lips, then stretch out beside him, keeping my hand placed on the deep cleft of his sternum. "You are so full of shit. You told me I could stay with you until I was better, after I got bashed. Then you said you wanted me to hang around, but only if we had an open relationship. Then you told me you couldn't handle my screwing around, but were unsure if you could be faithful. Then, finally, in Venice, you decided we'd give monogamy a try. So, when did this come-live-with-me-and-be-my-love' get said? I must have suffered temporary deafness." I slide my hand down his belly to diddle his cock. He begins to lengthen immediately.

"Do I have to say those exact words? Christ, haven't you heard of literary license? Fact is, I've tolerated your smart ass blond bombshell face all these years. What more do you need from me?"

"Not to use our relationship as an example of hell on earth to scare your son, who is not scared, despite your lame attempt."

"You've got it. Moving on..."

"Tell me you love me."

"Why? Is it your birthday?"

"No, but it will be yours soon, Brian, and I want to know how it sounds while you are still relatively young."

"Why don't I just show you how I feel?" He suggests, rolling me under him in one swift motion, yanking my briefs down to my knees. I wriggle and kick them off as his tongue slides between my lips and his stiff cock grazes my body. He fucks me with an enthusiasm that leaves me spent, and afterwards, we are in each other's arms, normalizing.

"What improved your mood? I know it wasn't that cheap Chianti," he says, and I shrug.

"Simple. Mario told me you didn't fuck him when you had the chance."

"Ah. Why would he do that?"

"I don't know, Brian. But it turned me around."

"Guess I'll have to fuck him out of gratitude," he says and I laugh and punch his biceps, snuggling against his shoulder to fall asleep.

Two days later...

Our chef has outdone himself as he rolls out a huge white cake dripping with coconut and pecans and cream cheese icing. It glows with fifty lit white candles, and everyone at the party applauds. Everyone except Brian. He never wanted a birthday party, but I ignored that request. These are our friends, Italians, ex pat Americans, even some Brits. Straight and gay couples, singles, a blend of ages and economic status. This is a big birthday, and I want to celebrate it memorably. Having Gus there with the girl he intends to marry makes it so much sweeter. I know part of Brian's reluctance is the fear of becoming emotional in front of others.

He is given an assortment of gifts, some whimsical, some quite grand. My special contribution is a 1978 Moto Guzzi motorcycle, an Italian classic that he has long yearned to own. When he saw it, he was stunned into silence, pulling me into his arms for a long, heartfelt embrace. Now the ceremony of the cake. While we sing to him in an off key rendition of the birthday song, he inhales sharply and begins to blow out the candles, tier after tier. He is able to extinguish them all, and we applaud his effort as he gasps for breath with mock exaggeration.

Before the cake is cut, he thanks us all for helping him celebrate his march into senility, and then motions to Gus and Marie-Claire. "My son has honored my birthday by bringing home the girl he loves and plans to marry." Applause and cheers that Gus greets with a deep blush and Marie-Claire fields with quiet dignity. "I find it remarkable that such a beautiful, intelligent, sweet girl would even consider a proposal from this vagabond son of mine, but there's no accounting for taste."

She laughs and ducks her head to him, then looks up to receive Gus's kiss. "So another toast, this time to the happiness of Gus and Marie-Claire."

We all lift our glasses, and Brian continues. "I have only wish for you, Sonny Boy. I wish that you could have a quarter of the joy and the excitement and the agony and the anticipation and the love and the affection and the tenderness and the tears and the lows and the highs and the partings and the reunions and the best god damned sex on the face of the earth that I have had in the twenty years that I've spent with my partner, Justin." He holds out his hand to me as the others murmur approvingly, and I feel my face grow red as I walk up to him and take his hand. He kisses me, and then continues, still holding onto my fingers. "I wish you have only a quarter of it, because that's more than enough for most normal people, and the whole damn thing is almost unbearable!" Laughter rings as I lean my head against his arm. "To Gus and Marie-Claire. May you be the Brian and Justin of the heterosexual world, and a whole lot less!"

Glasses are raised and then he leans down and kisses me gently to the applause of our guests and family. Late that night, after the dancing, after the brandy, after the last guest leaves, we are still awake in our room, eating the remains of the cake and washing it down with café latte. We are decompressing after the party. Suddenly he reaches under the pillow and hands me a small red leather box. I recognize Cartier Jewelers in the packaging. I wrinkle my nose with curiosity.

"Its not my birthday."

"Open it."

I do, revealing a ring consisting of three plain linked bands, one yellow gold, one white gold, one rose gold. They roll over each other but never come apart. I look up at him and he smiles and withdraws his left hand from his pocket. An identical ring is on the third finger. I have no idea when he slipped it on or where it came from, other than Cartier's. I lift this ring from the white velvet interior of the box and stare up at him. "Are you asking me to marry you?"

He winces and sits beside me, slipping it onto the same finger of my left hand. "Don't be stupid. You know how I feel about marriage, especially same sex marriage. It's just a symbol of..." he hesitates. I won't let him off the hook.

"Of what, Brian?"

"Of twenty fucking years, that's of what, damn it."

I meet his eyes, and he blinks first. "Just ask me," I plead softly. " I know it doesn't really mean anything, that we won't have a priest and we won't wear matching tuxes as we walk down the aisle together, and we won't have two grooms on top of a tall cake. But please, Brian. It's just the two of us here. Ask me."

He looks at me for a long moment, and then sighs. Every one of his fifty years is apparent in his handsome face when he's this tired. All of the sex and the fights and the tricks and the trials, each left a tiny line, a slight sag, a miniscule imperfection. But to me, he has never been more beautiful than he is at this moment. He takes my hand and presses it to his chest as he says, "Marry me."

"I already have," I whisper, collapsing into his arms and holding him so close I can feel his heart beat against my chest as my eyes close and I remember the first words he ever spoke to me.

Liberty Avenue, twenty years ago. Terrified, I looked into the gorgeous face of this man and heard him say, "How's it going? Had a busy night?" And then, "Where you headed?" I said, "No place special." And Brian replied, "I can change that." Change it; he did, in ways neither of us ever anticipated. I glance at the ring again and then close my eyes to anticipate his kiss, anxious to see where he plans to lead us as we enter yet another phase of our impossible relationship. It doesn't matter, really. The ride is the reality; the destination is just another stop. As long as we survive together, we can be anywhere, do anything.

"Ok, THIS is the best night of my life," I say with a smile. That proclamation has become a catchphrase between us. I first said it on the night of the prom, after we danced and before I got bashed. But since then, I've used it to commemorate all of our most special moments. I lean back awaiting his constant response. As he kisses my neck and unbuttons my shirt, he doesn't disappoint. I close my eyes and mouth the words along with him. "Even if it is ridiculously romantic."


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