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Silence and Tears

Chapter 17: Brian's POV

This is the longest moment of my life, watching him struggle to find the words. I can't take it. I can't believe I'm putting him through this. I push him aside, gently, and struggle to my feet. I limp over to the window, just wanting to put some space between us and prepare myself for his response. I won't argue with him. I won't beg. I have some pride. And beyond that, I respect his situation. I don't want to be unfair.

But I don't want to be alone, either.

I feel his hand on my shoulder. I don't move, I don't turn. He says, "I don't want to lose you. Lose this, what we have. That much I know."

Now, I turn. I stare into his baby blues. "Neither do I."

"That's a starting place, right?"

I nod. I guess it is. But where do we go from there? "I need to sit down," I realize and lean on him a little as we walk over to the sofa. I must be getting better. I can sit a little easier now. He threads his fingers through mine. "Will you get me a cigarette?" I ask and he retrieves the pack and my lighter. He refuses one when offered. I inhale the soothing nicotine. It doesn't help, much. My stomach hurts all of a sudden. I recognize this as stress. How can I be so stressed with someone I love?

"Let's not talk about it now," I try, pathetic of me, yes. He smiles.

"Shut up, Brian."

"That's my point exactly."

"We can't settle anything if we ignore it."

"I know."

"I don't think this is the right time for me to leave New York."

I draw my lips into a thin, tight line and use that as a cue to keep the rest of my expression dispassionate. Inside, something breaks. I nod. Say nothing. Voice is not to be trusted. I feel his hand on my arm, but I don't look at him. He goes on. "Which isn't to say I reject your need for us to be together."

I glance at him. What the fuck? Now a little anger penetrates the pain. He can't have this cake and devour it too. "I've already done the math. Kinnetik isn't well established enough to survive a move to the city. All the big dogs play there. If I tried to re-launch my business in New York at this point in time, and gave up my home base here, I'd go down in flames. And not in a... "

"Yes, I know. Not in a positive, life affirming way. I'm not asking you to relocate your business."

"So you think I should give up my own company and get a job flogging ads for a big dog?"

"Of course not. I know how much Kinnetik means to you. And you've turned it into a great business."

"Then what are you saying?"

"I'm saying we both have to bend."

I raise a brow. "You're the one who bends over in this relationship."

He smiles. "Only for your dick."

"I could arrange that."

"Let's not get off the topic."

I frown at his determination. "Ok, both bending means what in your pointed little head?"

"Not pointed, not little. It means it won't be perfect."

"Whatever is?"

"I know. We split our time."

"How do we do that?"

"You come to the city, I come here."

"You have a job, I have a job. We both need jobs."

"Brian, how often are you in New York on business?"

"Often."

"Right. And my job is menial labor in a poster shop, and waiting tables when I can get a gig. If I make a couple gallery sales, I'll have the backup to be able to depend more on my art to support me. Which is my ultimate goal. There are no hours for an artist."

"It's not coming together in my mind, Justin."

"Because you're not letting it. For three months, we've been in a black hole of polite conversation and neither of us making the first move to see the other. Now we have an idea of what we both want and need. We accommodate, Brian."

"Go on."

"Admittedly, until I get a couple sales, and no, don't even think about being the one to buy my canvases and give me the bankroll that way, I'll know where they go, it will fall more heavily on you to travel. You come to New York on business, or you take a couple days off, or whatever. And I meet you and we stay together. Will we be living together? No. Not for awhile. But will we be together as a couple? Yes. And when I have more financial flexibility, I'll come here, too. As soon as I have my feet under me as a painter, I'll live wherever you want to live. I can paint anywhere. But first I have to get established."

"I don't know," it's not what I want. "It sounds like an occasional roll in the hay to me, not a relationship."

He stares at me. "Since when is a roll in the hay not part of a relationship?"

"Active word being 'part'."

"Brian, work with me here. Are you asking me to move back? Is that the only thing that will work for you?"

Ouch. That's a fair question. Yes, I want him to move back. But if he really feels he has to prove something to himself as an artist and that New York plays a part in that proof, then what the fuck am I doing? How could that make me happy to stop him from that goal? In the end, it could destroy us as a couple. I touch his face. "No."

"Well then? The simple fact is you're the one with the money, Brian. Not me. Not yet. I can't travel as easily as you can. I can't afford it and menial jobs don't offer extravagant vacation schedules."

I let that sink in. "There are some big accounts in New York that I'd like to spend more time pursuing."

"Okay, keep talking."

"I could do the rainmaking thing, part time, write off my expenses."

"Good."

"But not sure how your staying with me in some nice W hotel suite and ordering room service would aid your self help cause?"

He winces. "That's a point."

"So, I'll stay with you when I come to New York."

He laughed. "Sheeya, right. In my fourth floor walk up with three roommates, no privacy, bad heating, no style, and sharing a single bed in a room where a straight guy sleeps on the futon on the floor?"

"Couldn't we trade him for the futon? Five minutes in a room with us, any straight guy will either switch teams or go running for the door."

He laughs. "This is so true, but... "

"But what?"

"I don't know. I don't want to share you with them."

"Justin, you have to bend, too. If I'm doing all this travel to keep the flame alive, you have to give in, too."

"I know. But that apartment is a hole."

"Okay, here's my second and final offer on this subject. I'll find a cheap, but acceptable studio apartment in Manhattan. Furnished. I'll find a way to call it my corporate suite and I'll write it off. You can't live there because I have to keep it real for the IRS. And I'll make it available to big clients or to other people who work for me. But when I'm in town, that's where we'll stay. It's not a suite at the Westin with hot and cold running room service waiters and pay for porn, but it's not your fucking walk up either."

He nods. "I like it. Look for the downtown area, since that's where my job and my working studio are located," he reads my expression and retreats a little. "Try."

I nod. "And you, goldilocks? What are the milestones you're establishing to determine when you're ready to join me on a more permanent basis?"

"I want to be able to afford to rent my own studio with running water, heat and a bathroom, the rest doesn't matter. In Pittsburgh, wherever you choose to live. I want to know I can support that workspace on my own talent. And pay half your rent."

"I don't have rent."

"Your mortgage."

"I don't have a mortgage. I paid it off."

He glares at me. "Work with me, Brian."

"My condo fees? My utilities? The cost of condoms and lube?"

"Man, this will be years away!" he says with a laugh. "Ok, half of all that."

"I understand about your studio, I do. But I don't need your help with the rest."

"I know. But I need to contribute."

I look at his prideful little face and I have to smile. I love the fire in his belly. I never want to do anything to dampen that passion for his art, for his life. Compromise. The name of the game is to make compromises you both feel good about. "I'll tally it up and give you an estimate of half of my expenses, excluding my wardrobe, of course."

He laughs. "I could never afford to dress you."

"I know. It's an addiction. This will probably bomb big time, Justin."

"Why?"

"Because we'll still have long periods where we'll be apart. I can't get to New York for business reasons, or you have a longer delay in being sold than you expected. I don't know."

"If it's important enough, we'll find a way. The difference is we're trying, Brian. We haven't gone dark on each other. Neither of us could exist with a rigid schedule, where I travel one week and you the next. We'd both get rebellious about that. I don't love New York for the sake of living in New York. It's a great city but no city is greater than how I feel with you. But I have to have time to do what I need to do. You get that, right?"

"Yes."

"And you know I would rather be with you, even when I'm not, right?"

"If you say so."

"I do say so, Brian!"

His irritation amuses me. I smile. "Okay, okay, off your high horse, Hopalong."

"Don't put a doubting spin on my love for you. I'm sick of your always expecting the worst, always expecting to be hurt."

"Practice."

"Well, get the fuck over it."

I smile and kiss his tense neck. "I'm trying."

He relaxes slightly and says, "Me too."

"I know. Thanks."

We kiss. The kiss is perfect. The compromise is still in play, and is imperfect. But it is a start. It is hope. It is something out of nothing. The phone rings. He picks it up. He glances at me and then says, "Hi, Mom. How'd you know I'd be here?" He glares into space. "Don't you dare be smug. You interfered. You meddled. It was wrong and it could have blown up in your face!" He sighs as I chuckle. "That was pure luck. He's been better, he hurt himself on the slopes. No, not serious, just painful and stupid." He glances at me and grins. "Yeah, I know."

She must have said that sounds like Brian, or something like that, and I have to agree. He goes on. "I don't know, maybe. I'll talk to him and call you tomorrow. Okay, bye."

"I notice you didn't mention your own stupidity on the slopes," I say as he hangs up.

He shrugs. "It was nothing."

"Right."

"She invited us to dinner at her house tomorrow night."

I sigh. Dinner with the in-laws. Who'd a thunk it? "Up to you."

"Are you well enough?"

"Do I have to slay my own elk and skin it?"

"Maybe," he says with a grin.

"Let's compromise. I'll eat the bread and veggies."

He smiles and leans back on the sofa as I cover his mouth in a wet, sloppy kiss.


Chapter 18: Jennifer's POV

"I'm not sure having me here is a great idea," Cynthia is trying to chicken out on me. Give it up, girl. We're in my kitchen, preparing jambalaya, one of Justin's favorite dishes. He says Brian likes it. I suspect Brian would eat it just to make him happy.

"If you think I'm taking all the blame for this, think again," I tease her as I refill our glasses with this exceptionally good merlot I found on sale at my favorite wine shop. I think we're a little east of tipsy, which is making this whole cooking thing more enjoyable.

"Here's to a successful beginning, anyway," Cynthia taps my glass with hers. We drink. I add a little more Tabasco to the brew in the big wrought iron pot.

"They're in the same room," I observe. "They had a couple days alone together after they found each other, as I knew they would. We can't live their lives for them, and make the right decisions for them, they have to do that. But at least we got them in the same vicinity through a little careful planning."

"And then nature took its course," she says with a smile. "Maybe I should turn my shitty love life over to your manipulations."

"Forget it," I say with a sigh. "Look at my own."

She begins slicing a baguette to add the butter and garlic seasoning. We'll then wrap it in foil until it's time to put it in the oven. "Do you think you'll ever get married again, Jennifer?"

"I'm in no rush to marry, and I really don't think I need to be married. But I would like someone to date. I miss having a man in my life. So long as he isn't Craig." We both giggle, a sure sign of too much good wine. Molly comes in with her usual adolescent scowl. What makes adolescents so nasty anyway? Little do they know how good they have it. Youth is truly wasted on the young.

"I'm not eating that," she dismisses the jambalaya with a glance.

"Why not?" Cynthia asks, unclear on the concept of teenaged girls and their moods. It's been awhile since she was a nasty teenaged girl, and way longer than that for me. Molly narrows her eyes at the pretty blonde.

"Because it's rank. It smells funny and it's too spicy."

"Then you can eat salad and bread," I inform her as she opens the freezer and glares at the myriad of "lite" pre-packaged meals.

"I'll fix something for myself and eat in my room."

"Molly, your brother and his partner are coming to dinner. You will join us and you will act human."

She turns to look at me. "Brian is coming?"

I nod. She slams the refrigerator shut and storms out of the room, proclaiming, "You could have told me! I have to change!"

Cynthia and I share a look and I shrug. "His charm extends beyond the boys of Babylon."

She laughs. "Don't I know it? I went through my crushing on Brian stage."

"You did?"

"Oh sure. When I was his assistant at the other firm. My first day on the job, I was telling my friends, 'I'm going to marry my boss'. I used all my little tricks on him. Flinging the hair back, short skirts, glittery lip gloss, a black bra under a white blouse, but he was a brick wall. Then one day he said to me that we were having a very important client meeting the next day and suggested I wear my Ellen Tracy suit, that it looked good on me. And instead of the Ferragamo's I usually wore it with, try the Jimmy Choo slingbacks since they sexed it up subtly. Ding, ding, ding, it finally got through that Mr. Metrosexual wasn't so metro after all. He was gay."

I laugh. "It is difficult to tell with Brian. He comes across as straight, unless you happen to see him with my son, and then there's no doubt. I raised Justin, and I always suspected he could be gay. He's just effeminate enough to broadcast that fact, but Brian is a tough read."

"He has his queenie moments, believe me. He may not be effeminate, but he can queen out with the best of the drama monarchs."

We both giggle. "I hated Brian, at first," I admit. "I felt like he was taking advantage of Justin. He was too old, too sophisticated. I knew he would hurt him, and he did. But then I saw how he stood up to my husband and that started me thinking. Later, when Justin got bashed, I blamed Brian. I felt he shouldn't have gone to that prom, that he set him up for the trouble that came. Looking back, I know it was a loving gesture, his showing up there at that prom, and very courageous. I'm firmly convinced of how much he loves my son. Brian's very vulnerable, beneath all that egomania. I think I've transferred some of my protective mama feelings to him."

"God knows he needs it, given that she-wolf who gave birth to him."

"At least he has Debbie."

"Don't get me started on her."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean from watching Debbie interact with Brian, I'm reminded of a shit sandwich. It looks fine on top and bottom but in the middle, it's still full of shit. She's so inconsistent in her feelings for Brian. She goes from loving him or appearing to love him, to treating him like shit in five minutes flat."

I realize I've seen that happen. But that's Debbie. She's so volatile. The front door opens and I hear Justin say, "We're here." We meet halfway between the kitchen and the living room. Brian isn't with him, but he's holding his partner's coat, so I assume he's here somewhere. I kiss his cheek as he sniffs the air. "Jambalaya?"

I nod. "Where's Brian?"

"Sitting down. I'm getting him a Coke. He's not drinking at the moment."

I walk past him and see Brian sitting rather stiffly in the suede chair with the matching ottoman. He doesn't attempt to get up. I can read his discomfort in his pallor and his pose. He offers me a half smile and a salute, but I lean over to kiss his clammy forehead. "How badly are you hurt?"

"I'm sidelined for the Super Bowl. There goes the Steelers last hope for a win."

I laugh at that. "I made a nice raw veggie and ranch dip? Want some?" I pick up the tray, but he waves it away.

"No thanks. I'll save myself for dinner."

"Brian, do you want to lie down? You look miserable."

"It's that damned Corvette, Mom," Justin re-enters and hands Brian a can of Coke. I try to tell him to please pour it in a glass but he never hears me so I've given up. I think drinking out of cans is tacky. "It's so low, getting him in and out of the car was a torture, and the shocks on that thing are ridiculous."

"Don't dis my car," Brian grumbles. "It's not the car's fault I'm banged up."

Justin flops down on the couch and sips his beer from a bottle. He beams at Brian and replies, "Yeah, whose fault is that again?"

"If you give me a minute, I can find a way to make it your fault, Sunshine."

I smile at one man and then the other. They're interacting again. Cynthia joins us. "Hi, boss. Justin."

"Didn't I fire you?" Brian glares at her and she laughs.

"Billing system, remember?"

He continues to glare as my son says, "Both of you were wrong to do what you did. It was manipulative and interfering and could have blown up in your faces. You don't have the right to pull games on us. This is our relationship, not yours."

"You're both so stubborn and prideful that you sat in your separate cities and were separately miserable. Friends, and moms, don't let friends be miserable if they can help them." I explain. Cynthia high fives me.

"You know what they say about the best laid plans, right?" Brian contributes.

"At least it's a plan, Brian. You two didn't seem to have one, now did you?"

Silence. Brian laughs. "Who knew women would be making an effort to restore order in my miserable love life?"

Justin leaned over to kiss the top of his head, bringing a grimace from him. "Maybe that's what was missing. The feminine touch?"

"Really? You mean you aren't feminine enough?"

I watch Justin elbow him and Brian groan as if in more pain than he is. The obvious affection between them makes me feel warmer than any wine. Any Tabasco sauce. Anything.

"Hi, Brian," Molly's voice comes from the stairs. We all look over at her. She's gone from glum adolescent in sweats to Lolita in short skirt and tummy revealing top. She's obviously unclear on the concept of gay, but then she still has time to learn. Justin leans back against Brian, staring at his sister as Brian says,

"Uh, hi, Molly. Nice belly button."

She beams as her brother drops his head on Brian's shoulder, muffling his laughter in his lover's sweater.


Chapter 19: Brian's POV

Thank God for Cynthia.

Not that I would ever tell her that. But I think it at least once a week, often more. Tonight, she offered to drive me home in her comfortable, if boring, Lexus SUV, and Justin would follow in the Vette. It must be a mark of how very uncomfortable I am that I agreed to this plan. The idea of dropping into that sports car and then trying to drag my ass out of it held no appeal.

"I must be paying you too much," I opine as I look around the luxurious leather interior of her car. She laughs.

"You don't pay me a fraction of what I'm worth to you."

She's right about that. I close my eyes. The pain sort of rolls through me like waves hitting a beach. Intense, then retreat, intense, then retreat. I know this is probably the peak period of pain, when the ripped muscles and knitting bones are complaining the loudest, but I wish it would pass. I lean my head against the headrest and close my eyes.

"God, Brian, you really are in pain. Should you see a doctor?"

"Been there, done that. Sick of doctors. Nothing to be done but ride it out."

"Did he give you good stuff for the pain?"

"Nothing, the sadist. But I guess I'd rather keep my mind clear right now, anyway, and that shit tends to make me loopy."

"How's it going with Justin? You two seemed really good together tonight."

I open my eyes to glare at her pretty profile. "Nothing's settled. And don't meddle in my life again, in case I didn't make that point earlier."

"You made it, Brian. I can still feel the spear in my gut. Believe me. God, I'm so glad you're queer."

Okay, that one surprises me. "What do you mean?"

"If you were straight, I wouldn't have let up until you dated me and that would've been such a disaster. Titantic, iceberg, the whole sinking to the bottom of the ocean thing."

I chuckle, and it hurts to do so. "Thanks. A guy always likes to hear a woman say that dating him would be an epic disaster."

"It's true. I would've fallen in love with you, you wouldn't have fallen in love with me, you'd break my heart, I'd have to get another job and then I'd compare every man I dated after you unfavorably."

"How do you know I wouldn't have fallen in love with you?"

"Because I know you. You think being straight would make you any less promiscuous? No, you'd just be playing in a different arena. Women would be hitting on you the same way men do now."

"Women do hit on me."

"See? You're gay and they hit on you. Imagine if you were straight. I don't have Justin's persistence and determination. I could never wait you out. My ego wouldn't allow it."

"Is there a point to this fantasy disaster?"

She stops at a traffic light and peers in my direction. "The point is, you found a perfect partner for you, Brian. He adores you. You adore him. Quit being stupid about it."

"The light turned green. Generally means go in these parts."

"You know I'm right," she says as she gives it the gas.

"I know you're meddling again."

"You tried everything you could think of to get rid of him, to push him away, from brutal promiscuity to martyrdom. Total extremes. You still love him. He still loves you. Figure it out."

"Seriously, Cynthia, shut the fuck up. It's none of your fucking business."

"It's my business because I care about you, Brian. You've moved from the impossible dream to a friend. I've seen your pain. It all seems so pointless to me."

I stare out the window at my town. Pointless. The pain or the relationship? "We both want to be together, but making it happen and making it work is so difficult."

"If it's worth it, you'll figure it out together. I'd kill to love someone so much and to be so loved by someone. It's rare, Brian. Don't waste it."

I think back to my dream of Vic. Dancing at that nightmare version of Babylon where all the boys are over fifty. That dream haunts me more than I can say to anyone. I don't want to be one of those pathetic old queens, still gyrating under the mirrored ball long after the strike of midnight. Getting older sucks. But I don't want to be old and ridiculous. Nor do I want to be old and alone. Nor do I want to be alone now. Her hand on my arm makes me flinch. "What?"

"We're here. Do you need help?"

I look at my building on Tremont Street as if I've never seen it before. I'm sure he's already there. If that Vette can't beat this Lexus, then what is the point? I look up at my windows. The lights are on and someone is at home. How nice that is. How comforting. "I can do it," I tell her and my hand hovers over the door handle but then I turn towards her. I slip a hand on the back of her neck. It feels so delicate to me, unlike a man's neck that's all muscle and tendon. Her soft blonde hair falls over my fingers. I lean in and kiss her on the mouth. Her lips are soft, her mouth is small, and when I slip her the tongue, her tongue feels tentative and receptive but passive. There is not the same urgency when kissing a girl, the same "let's just get it done" intensity I feel with men. Kissing women is more of a courtship, a dance, a preliminary to the main event that may or may not happen. I remember all those confusing emotions as we kiss. It feels nice. If I were straight, I would've dated Cynthia, and it would've been a disaster. She's right. She's right about the rest, too.

I feel her fingers on the back of my head and then I break off the kiss and lean back to grin at her. "Never write me off as some safe old faggot," I warn her. "I'm Brian fucking Kinney. I'm always on my game."

She shakes her head, still a little dazed by my move, and I force myself to make a less than pathetic exit from the car despite the pain, not wanting to contrast my pronouncement with the reality of who I am right now. I wave and walk/limp into the building. He's waiting at the elevator, downstairs, arms crossed at his chest. "You always kiss the help goodnight like that, boss?"

I lean a heavy arm across his shoulders and let him walk me into the waiting elevator. "She dismissed me as a harmless faggot, and I don't like to be dismissed."

"You are a harmless faggot. Harmless to her, anyway."

I glare at him. I hate it when he sees through me. "She doesn't have to know that."

"She does know that."

This fucking elevator is so slow. It's like torture. I really want to lie down now. We walk into the loft and he locks the door and trails me to the bedroom. I let him help me undress. I'm too tired to argue. This little outing was so exhausting, which is just sad. I'm sick of feeling incapacitated. The cancer, the collarbone, now this. I'm in a bad mood, all of a sudden. He helps me under the sheets and then climbs in with me. I feel his body curve gently against my back. It feels good, warm, soothing.

"What's wrong?" He persists.

I don't want him to go back. "Nothing. Tired." I don't like it that Cynthia read me so well.

"Come back with me," he whispers. "Let's look for that little flat together. Let's have that place leased before we separate again. Let's know it's there to bind us."

I turn over, painfully, to face him. "Yeah?"

He kisses me. "Yeah."

I smile. He kisses me again and then grimaces. "What's wrong?"

"You taste like girl."

I laugh and pin him back on the pillow, plunging my tongue into his mouth, feeling his urgent, demanding, hot response. This is what it's about for me. It wasn't that Cynthia isn't a good kisser or even that she isn't a man. It's that she isn't Justin. His arms close around my neck and suddenly my pain begins to recede as other hormones take over my body. I let go and relax in his embrace, knowing what will happen next, knowing that I'll like it, and knowing that this is exactly what I wanted for Christmas.


Chapter 20: Justin's POV

Six Months Later.

I know he isn't coming, so why do I keep looking for him? It's not his fault. I'm disappointed, but not mad at him for staying away. He had legitimate business to take care of, a huge pitch and a dinner with potential clients from Europe, so it couldn't be postponed. He'll be here this weekend. We can come to the gallery together while he's in town, but it's not the same as my opening.

He feels terrible about it, so I need to let it go. But more than all of these art junkies and art critics and skinny people in black trying to be cool, I wish Brian were here. I know he would hang back on the fringes, not wanting to interfere as I circulate among all the chardonnay sippers telling me I'm brilliant. Occasionally I'd catch his eye and he'd give me that Kinney smirk that says "Don't get too full of yourself. The adulation is bullshit, it's the work that matters."

The work is good.

The best work I've ever done.

I'm proud of it, even though I'm absolutely exhausted from working my part time jobs and painting all hours. When I'd go to Pittsburgh to visit him, all I ever wanted to do was fuck and sleep. In that order. Then I'd be back in my little attic garret painting like a mad man.

This show fell out of the sky for me. The owner of the gallery saw my painting in the restaurant where I work as a waiter a few nights a week. They let me hang art on the brick walls, and I've sold more than a few to diners. Not cheap prices, but not huge, and the owner of the restaurant gets a cut. This gallery owner not only bought it, but resold it for three times what he paid and then asked to see what else I had.

I remember thinking he looked as out of place as Brian does in my workspace, standing in this dusty room, overpowered by the stench of oil based paint and turpentine, his expensive suit in constant danger of brushing something wet and being ruined by it. Unlike Brian, who loves everything I paint with the bias of a partner, this guy was very critical and picky, segregating the exact canvases I consider my best work. And so the gallery exhibition was born.

I was five canvases short of an exhibition, with two months to pull it together. Brian was very understanding, traveling to New York instead of asking me to travel, sacrificing time together when he was here so that I could work. How unfair that on the big night, he had a conflict. This effort was almost as much his as mine. Certainly he was the one factor that kept me sane. When I thought I couldn't do it, couldn't keep going, he told me I wasn't a quitter and kicked my ass back to the studio.

My mom is here, Daphne is here, we'll have a great late dinner together when it's all over, and I'll crash at their hotel. But Brian... I pause in front of the one portrait among all the abstractions. He hasn't seen this and it's not for sale. The gallery owner wanted me to hang it just so they could see what he called the "depth" of my range. It's clearly marked "Artist's Private Collection". The name of portrait is "His Eyes". It's a huge close up of Brian's face, concentrating on his incredible, all seeing, all feeling eyes.

Daphne gasped when she saw it and my mother cried a little. Women. Brian would grimace and ask me who it was supposed to be. But I know he'd be touched and flattered. For me, it was a work of love, a way of pouring my feelings for him into the paint and letting it spread across a blank canvas. It kept him with me when he was gone. I could look across my studio and see that face and feel less alone.

As the evening progresses, I notice more and more paintings are marked with little red dots, signifying a sale. Of course the owner gets a cut, just like at the restaurant, but even with that, I should be doing pretty well. No telling what the critics are going to say about the work. This is New York. They can be cruel.

"Who's the hot stud in the portrait?"

I turn and stare at him in disbelief. No way! He looks irresistible in all black, dressed as the bad guy for summer. Black silk shirt, black linen trousers, a black alligator belt with a silver buckle. I lose my studied, New York artiste cool completely and throw my arms around his neck, knocking him back a little with a kiss. He laughs and peels me off of his body.

"Control yourself, Picasso. We're among the cool kids."

I can't let him go completely, though. I thread my fingers through his, beaming at his handsome face. "You said... "

"I know what I said," he interrupts. "But I told the clients that my partner was opening his first Tribeca gallery exhibition tonight, and as much as I'd love to smoke pussy and talk about cigars with them over steaks, I really needed to be in New York."

"You didn't have to."

He slips an arm behind my waist and forces me to look into his eyes. "Yeah, I did."

I kiss him again. I know some are staring, whispering, but I don't care. Let them. They recognize him from the portrait and the gay thing still brings out a little titter, even in New York. He gives me a swat on the seat. "Now go make nice with the deep pockets. When and why the painting of me?"

"You like it?" He shrugs. He loves it. Knew he would. "It keeps me company when we're apart."

"In that case, you painted the wrong part of me."

I laugh and wiggle my fingers at him as I drift away to make nice, watching him gravitate towards my mom.

Later, the four of us have a nice dinner at a quiet café in Tribeca. I don't know if I've ever been happier. The exhibition was a great success, although I won't know what my haul is until later. And the art stays up for ten more days. My mom is here, my best friend is here, but mostly Brian is here, and I can't stop smiling as I slip a hand under the table to rest on his hard thigh. He covers my fingers with his.

We all have a wonderful time and then split up into two cabs. They go to the Tribeca Grand where they're staying, and we go to the flat. We all agree to meet tomorrow for brunch. I lean my head against his shoulder as we ride, our hands locked together between us. "Thank you," I whisper and he smiles.

"Shut up."

"I mean it."

"So do I. Shut up."

"Brian... "

He leans over to kiss me, shutting me up in the most powerful way he knows. At the apartment, there's no making it to the bed. There's no time to strip off clothes. We open, shove and lower what has to be opened, shoved and lowered in order for his cock to find its way to my ass. I lean over the table, gripping it in both hands as he pounds me. We haven't hiked the air conditioning, so we're both sweaty and limp when it's finished. So much for his beautiful clothes.

A shared shower feels good as the apartment cools down with refrigerated air. We do it again, only with less frantic desperation. In bed, in a dark room, naked, we lie there on our backs, my head on his shoulder, my leg crossing his, as he inhales some chronic and says, "I saw my cancer doctor yesterday."

I tense. Oh god. I can go for months without thinking about the fact Brian had cancer. His fake ball is as real as the other one to me now, I don't really think about the fact it's a prosthesis. But when I let myself remember, when I let myself think that he's not really cured until he's cancer free for five years, I feel physically ill.

"It's all good," he says, and I realize I haven't breathed as I exhale slowly. "No sign of cancer."

I kiss him, tasting the drug, tasting him. "Thank God."

"Yeah. I wouldn't want to lose the other one. Not much fun to be a eunuch from what I've heard."

But we both know that's not as scary as some of the other possibilities. Testicular cancer can spread to the spine, the brain, the lungs, any organ. If it metastasizes, it can kill and kill quickly. He found it early, I remind myself. They didn't even have to do chemo. I reach over and hug him tightly and he gives me an exaggerated moan as he pries my arms away. "What is wrong with you?"

I raise myself to one elbow and look down at him in the darkness, smoothing his hair back from his forehead. "If something happened to you... "

He presses a finger to my lips to stop my thought. "Don't jinx it. I'm fine."

We kiss and I relax into his embrace once again. "How long can you stay?"

"I need to go back Sunday night, Justin. I'm meeting with them Monday before they fly home. I'll get their verdict."

I'm disappointed that the trip is so short, but I understand. "Maybe I'll fly back with you. The exhibition is finally behind me. I can take a few days."

"I'd like that. You haven't been home in a while."

"I know. I've missed the loft."

"The loft? You've missed the loft?"

I laugh at his emphasis. "You know what I mean."

"I'm afraid I do. You love me for my digs."

"I've always loved you for your digs."

"Well, get over it. I'm moving."

I sit up and stare at him, switching on the lamp so I can see his face. "Homo says what?"

"Homo says he's moving."

"Moving. Just like that."

"Well, no. It will require some planning. Can you turn that off?"

"No. Do you think this is something we should discuss? Is that not my home, too? You can't just make a unilateral decision to move!"

"Chill, drama baby. I'm just moving one floor. The big loft came open and I'm taking it."

I relax a little. I love that loft. We've always lusted after it. It has two more bedrooms and a bath and a half more than he has now, plus terrace access. Of course, it costs twice as much, too. "Where are Ben and Jerry going?" Their real names are Ren and Jimmy, but they're two plump queens who look like they should make ice cream, so we renamed them, privately.

"Where all old queens go to wear caftans and chase beach boys. South Beach. They bought a condo overlooking the water."

We both laugh. "Can you afford it?"

"Yeah, life is good."

"Do you really want all that room?"

"Well, Gus has to have his own space. That's part of the agreement."

Brian sued for visitation three months ago and has put tremendous pressure on the lesbians. He hired a shark. Melanie is no match. "What agreement?"

He grins at me. "We've reached settlement. I wanted to tell you face to face."

"Tell!"

He explains the terms of the agreement that gives him access to his son, in Pittsburgh, on a regular rotating basis. He agrees to hire a nanny to watch over Gus while Brian is working, and he's taken on other obligations, like college and insurance. None of that matters. He gets to see Gus and I know how much that means to him. "I'm so happy for you."

"Listen, Sunshine, this isn't just about me. You're my partner. It hits your life, too, having a hyperactive kid around some of the time. How do you feel about that?"

"I love Gus. You know that."

He pulls me down on top of him and kisses me, hard. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too. Always."

We kiss and slip slowly into round three.


Chapter 21: The Conclusion. Brian's POV

This was a story about how the last season of QAF might have ended. It's an alternative to what was filmed. I've been through all the stages of grief over the way the show was written, and now this is my reconciliation, for Brian and Justin, for Randall and his love for the show. Some of you wanted more, detailed rendering of their relationship. That's not how I viewed this particular story. This was exactly what I wanted to say, how I wanted it to end. It's my view, plain and simple, neither right nor wrong. I'm leaving my LJ open in case I want to post any thing else outside of my P/CP work, even fiction unrelated to QAF. Maybe the first Vanished gap filler? (JOKE!) I hope you enjoyed this little love story, it was very therapeutic for me. Love, Randall


Six months later, Christmas Day

I have such a headache. If Gus shoots me with that fucking laser whatever the fuck it is that makes that huge popping noise with each pull of the trigger, I may have to pitch his favorite gift in the dumpster. He'll go to bed before I do, I'll get my chance. The loft looks like a tsunami swept in, disarranged everything, and then pulled out, leaving behind all the debris it could carry. Tinsel, ribbon, paper, boxes, plates of food, glasses of wine, maybe too much wine, and in the middle of it all, there's that fucking Christmas tree.

"Have you noticed how that tree isn't even straight?" I point out to Justin as I prop my feet up on the table and watch Gus dig into another, hopefully quieter, stash of toys.

"Why should anything in this house be straight?" he says with a laugh as he plops down beside me on the sofa and offers me a pick from a plate of frosted Christmas cookies. Jennifer made them and sent a tin home with us. At this rate, between Justin and Gus, they'll be history by tomorrow.

"Do you know how much sugar is in one of those things?" I challenge him and he grins at me.

"If you hum a few bars... "

"Shut up," I massage my temples. Not only is the tree less than straight, it looks like it might go up like a torch if exposed to any source of heat. Such as the lights that blink and twinkle and bubble and whatever the fuck those frosted ones do. I've never seen so many different kinds of lights on one tree. It looks like an electricity experiment. "Tomorrow, we take that thing down before it torches the building."

"NO!" Gus rings in from the floor, reaching for his laser of justice and vengeance.

"Ok, ok," I mollify him. "If you leave that damned gun alone, I'll let it stay up another day."

He goes back to his hand held baseball whatever it is game. The annoying little blips and beeps that emanate from it are far more tolerable than that gun.

"You shouldn't let him be the boss of you," Justin teases me and I shrug.

"Sometimes surrender is the best course. Will you go get me some Advil? My head is killing me."

"Did you break a leg? Get your own Advil."

"This is what happens when you let the little woman have her own career," I complain as I struggle to my feet. "They forget their place."

I feel the pillow hit me squarely in the back as I go into the bathroom and swallow a couple gel caps. It's been a long day, beginning while it was still dark. Gus woke us up with a demand to see what Sandy Claws brought him. After being up late putting his toys together and wrapping even more loot, we were both exhausted. But we complied, and drank coffee and feigned excitement as he tore through his haul like a Texas tornado.

Then it was brunch with Jennifer and Molly, dinner at Deb's, a tasteful little cocktail whatever at Em's and back here for Chinese from cartons and more Gus activity. He held up well, the poor kid, running on adrenalin and greed. The only time he conked out was at Em's, sprawled over everyone's discarded coats on Em's bed. Now he's wired again, and I'm feeling my age. Cringe.

Justin is kind enough to take him to the bathroom for a bath. One nice thing about being in the bigger loft, we have a tub. Gus loves the Jacuzzi jets and for once, he doesn't complain when he has to be bathed. He also has his own room and so do we. With a door. For privacy. The sudden quiet lulls me into an unplanned nap, and I'm rudely awakened when Justin sits down next to me and pats my leg.

"I was going to tell you to kiss him goodnight, but he fell asleep two paragraphs into the story I was reading him."

"I told you he isn't into gay s & m."

He laughs. "Yet."

We both chuckle at that. "We could restore order to the disaster zone, or we could go to bed. What's your preference?"

"It's still Christmas and you have another present to open."

I glance at his profile. I don't need another present. The last six months have been enough of a present to last me through several Christmases. He's here or I'm there with regular frequency and it's going well. I miss him when we're apart, but I cope. And now I have Gus here, according to a strictly enforced schedule. I have a nanny to stay with him when I have to work, but I don't want her around when I'm home. The whole point of this custody battle was to give me more time with my son, not to introduce him to a nice nanny.

I can't say things are good between the lesbians and me. But for Gus's sake, we're working it. That's all I can ask. I'm, dare I say it, happy. I'm happy. I like my life. I'd like them both to be around more, but gluttony is a mortal sin and I'm a good Catholic boy. Yeah, right. Some things will never change.

"What's this?" I ask as he pulls a familiar red box out from sequestration beneath a sofa cushion. Cartier? He already gave me those leather gloves lined in cashmere that I wanted.

"Open it." His bracelet gleams from his wrist. I hope to hell he didn't buy me one to match, with all his income from his art sales. It looks good on my femmy partner, but on me, it would be ridiculous. I'd wear it just so I wouldn't hurt his feelings, but I wouldn't like it. My idea of a bracelet is shells on leather.

I prepare myself to look happy and touched, but when I push the button and the box flops open, he says, "I want the box back."

Inside, there's no bracelet, just a key. I look at him and dangle it between us. "Is there a treasure chest this fits? Only I have to find it first?"

He laughs. "It's a key to my studio."

Oh God, how I hate that awful place above the poster shop. It's musty, dusty, smells of turpentine and you have to piss in the rusty sink. "Uh, okay," this must mean something to him. Not sure what. "Thanks. But I don't think I'll be going to your studio unless you're either in it or with me. Is this in case you lose your key? Because having a spare in Pittsburgh may not be the brightest idea."

"You really are dense, to be so smart, Mr. Kinney."

"Illuminate me."

"It's to my studio on Tremont Street. About a block and a half from here. Top floor of the old Adams Hat Factory. Cheap as shit, lots of room, lots of light and get this, it has working plumbing. They're converting it into living lofts, but for now, I can get this space for a song."

"Are you moving out?" I ask with a little apprehension, still not quite grasping the concept. He rolls his eyes. Taps me on the head with his knuckles. I grab his hand to stop him. "Head hurts. Remember?"

"It's to work in, Brian. I need room to work, solitude, the ability to slop paint around and not care what I hit with it."

"So it's your Pittsburgh studio?"

"It's my only studio. I'm moving back."

I stare at him. No way. No fucking way! "Why?"

"Is that your reaction?"

"It's one of my reactions."

"Because I can. Because I have collectors who hound me now, galleries who want to show my work, not just in New York, but in other major cities, an agent who knows how to promote me, and money in the bank. I did it. I proved to myself that I can do this for a living, on my own, and I am. I may not be rolling in it, but if I had to do everything on my own dime, I could. And I miss you and I miss being here with you and with Gus and I'm ready." He pauses, narrows those blues at me. "That is, if you want me to move back full time."

I refuse to do the happy dance that's playing in the back of my mind. My headache has suddenly vanished. I refuse to let him see how much this announcement has thrilled me. I'm proud of him and I'm happy for myself, for us. I manage a shrug. "I don't mind, either way. You decide."

"Okay, in that case I'll stay in New York. We can keep commuting."

I glance at him. "Is that what you want?"

He hits me in the face with a pillow. "No, you asshat, that's not what I want! I want to be here, as I've said, with you and with Gus. But I'd like to read a little enthusiasm from you, if you don't mind."

I bite my smile, but reach over to kiss him. "How's that?"

"You call that enthusiasm?"

"I call that a start."

I take his hand and lead him into our bedroom and shut the door. Gone are the days when we can fuck on any surface in the loft, at least not while Gus is in residence. It's a small sacrifice, since we can always close the door, and he's only here half the time, with his moms the rest. We crawl onto the bed, snatching off clothes as we go.

"I was so afraid you were going to give me that damned bracelet," I whisper as my hands travel across the map of his body.

"Are you crazy? That's two and a half months studio rent!"

I laugh at that. Good decision on his part. I feel him grab a handful of me, and I don't flinch, not even when he fondles my false nut. I used to be so self-conscious about it, I never wanted anyone to touch it, but with him I'm completely at ease. I trust him. "I want to pay part of the expenses here, too, Brian."

"Can we talk about that stuff later? It makes my dick soft."

"Nothing makes your dick soft."

He's wrong, but that's okay, let him think that. "When are you moving back?" I reach for the lube and condoms before we go into overdrive.

"I want to be permanent by New Year's Eve."

"That's not so far from now."

"I don't have that much to do. It'll work. Especially if you fly up and help me."

"Sure. Gus can see New York all dressed up for the holidays. It will be fun for him."

"Now can we stop talking and start fucking?"

Sounds like a deal, I think to myself. I fill up his mouth with my tongue and prepare to fill up the opposite end with another part of my anatomy.

The next morning, I'm the first one up. The key is still on the sofa, where we left it. I fetch my key ring and slip it on the loop to hang with the others. I smile as I run my finger over the jagged edge of it. Home, he's coming home. I start filling a black trash sack with the debris from yesterday, making sure the goods are out of each box before it gets crushed in the sack. I consider tossing Gus's noisy fucking laser gun, but even I can't be that cruel.

The drapes are open to the terrace. It's more of a wide deck overlooking the city. Right now the benches and railings are covered in a shimmer of snow. The sky is gray, threatening more severe weather. I don't mind. It's the most beautiful day after Christmas I've ever seen.

"I peed in my bed, Daddy," Gus suddenly announces. He's standing there in pajama top, but no bottom. I blink. He seems almost proud of this accomplishment.

"Why?"

He shrugs. "I dunno. I guess I didn't get waked up." So much for the secret shame of bed-wetting.

Another nice feature about the bigger loft, I have my own washer and dryer on premise. "Let's go get in the tub," I tell him, unwilling to whiff piss every time I'm near him today. I slap Justin's beautiful exposed rump on our way to the bathroom.

"Get up. You need to watch the Gusmeister while I strip his bed."

"Another wet dream?" he teases and I glare at him.

"Yeah. Very wet."

He steps into his sweats as he stumbles towards the bathroom. At least we all have the same equipment, so we don't have to pretend modesty. In Gus's room, I clear off his bed and put everything, including his slightly damp teddy bear, into the washing machine. I pause as I measure fabric softener into the cup.

What the fuck am I doing?

Where is my hangover?

Where is my post-tweak dry mouth?

Where is my curiosity about who and what I did last night?

When did I turn into Martha Stewart?

Moment of panic.

It passes.

Okay, so this isn't as glamorous as banging boys in the backroom of Babylon. But I spent one too many Christmases in the company of lonely and desperate men who had nowhere to go, no one to spend a holiday with, no reason to treat the day any differently than say last Thursday. I was one of those men. I even liked it. At least for a while.

Some future Christmas, I may be back there, no one knows how their life will play out. We may lose the fire along the way, as so many couples do. We may decide we're better off moving on. What was that old Lord Byron poem I liked so much when I went through my poetic faggot phase, or some approximation of it? The line goes, "Pale grew thy cheek, and cold, colder thy kiss... "

It could happen to us. It could happen to anyone. No matter how much you don't want it to fall apart, it can. But for now, our silence and tears are in the past and we're making our own history, in our own way. Whether it's someone else's way really doesn't matter.

I add water to the fabric softener. I close the lid, and then close the louvered doors. I go to the kitchen and start the coffee. The loft is quiet. I hear the hum of the washer and a vague echo of their splashing and playing in the bathroom. I'm not alone.

No silence.

No tears.

No regrets.

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