Here is the set up.
THIS IS A WHOLE NEW STORY WITH NO REFERENCE BACK OR ACROSS TO ANYTHING I'VE WRITTEN BEFORE, INCLUDING DECONSTRUCTING BRIAN, WHICH I WILL PROBABLY PICK UP AND WRITE A SEQUEL TO, LATER. (I still plan to post letters from time to time, just to keep that universe alive.)
In this new universe, the guys are all in Pittsburgh. It is virtually canon. Think mid-season, season two. No Ethan. Brian and Justin are struggling to make their relationship work for both of them. The rest of the guys are there per existing canon. Except...into their lives comes an unexpected twist of fate. I hope you have some fun with it.
"Can I help you find something?" Michael approached the kid who was aimlessly flipping through the Japanese comics filed in bins along the west wall of his store. Michael had seen the boy here often, usually during school hours, which made him stand out among the adult collectors who haunted his stock of vintage comics.
Every time Michael tried to get close to him, the boy disappeared like a wet dream. He never bought anything, and from what Michael could tell, he never stole anything, either. Sometimes he would find the kid staring at him as if trying to get beneath his exterior to excavate his skeleton with his gaze.
The boy was a head taller than Michael, at least, and as thin as a stick. His joints and extremities seemed to be outpacing the growth of his body, emphasizing the angles of his elbows, the length of his neck, and the size of his hands and feet. "I'm just lookin'," he responded to Michael's offer in a voice that dripped with Southern exposure.
Despite his gangly body, he had a handsome face. His skin was tightly stretched and golden brown, too slick to permit any nasty pubescent eruptions to get inside his pores. He had classic features, but the most striking aspect of his face was the fact his golden-brown eyes were the same color as his thick mop of hair that had been heavily streaked by the sun. It twisted into corkscrews that framed his face in attractive dark auburn chaos. Michael wasn't into chicken, and this kid was definitely an illegal delight, but those eyes were incredibly compelling. He appeared to have some African-American blood mixed with a predominance of white, which gave him a stylish, exotic look.
He dressed like most boys his age in loose, low-hanging jeans and a plaid flannel shirt left open over a t-shirt advertising X-sports. His battered running shoes looked as if he walked miles every day. "If there's a particular comic you want, I can order it for you. Or I can be on the lookout for a collectible issue," Michael was trying to be helpful but he was also curious as hell about what drew the kid here day after day.
The boy stared at him, then reached deep in his pocket, searching for something. Before he could withdraw it, Debbie entered the shop with a flourish. "LUNCH TIME!" She announced to her son, loud enough for anyone else in the shop to turn and stare at her. She held up a paper bag and grinned at the others. "Sorry, boys, this is for my hard working baby boy, but if you others want good plain food for a low price, make your way down two blocks to the diner, and I'll feed you too!"
"Mom, wouldn't it be easier to put up a sign in here?" Michael teased and Debbie smiled.
"No," he said, peeking in the bag. Meatloaf sandwich, potato salad, lemon bar. He was happy. The kid caught a whiff of the food and his envious expression was palpable. "Hungry?" Michael asked, and he shook his head as Debbie zeroed in on him.
"Shouldn't you be in school?"
"MOM!" Michael cautioned her, and she shrugged.
"Well, he should be! This is Monday! There's no holiday. Why isn't he in school?" she watched the kid leave the shop, disappearing down the sidewalk at a lope. Michael turned to her and sighed.
"Nice going, Ma. I was just getting him to talk. He's been coming here for days and I could never get over to talk to him. Now he's gone."
"Somehow, I don't think you missed a big sale," she said sarcastically. "I felt d.j. view all over again when I saw that kid."
"And by that you mean deja vue?" Michael corrected her with a smile as he sat behind the counter and took out the sandwich. She watched him eat, finding his childlike table manners endearing.
"I can see that living with a college professor has picked up your vocabulary. You know what I mean."
"Why get 'd.j. view' when looking at that boy?" Michael asked, and she looked at him as it he came from Mars.
"You don't see it? He reminds me so much of Brian at that age. If Brian was a little less Irish and a little more Gold Coast of Africa."
"Brian Kinney?" Michael clarified, incredulous and she nodded.
"Is there any other Brian in your world? Of course, Brian Kinney."
"Are you nuts?" Michael wiped a drop of mayo from his chin and bit into the second half of the sandwich. "That kid is a bag of bones. He has more right angles than a geometry book! Brian was always gorgeous."
Debbie rolled her eyes at her son's undying hero worship of his best friend. "You never could see any flaws in Brian Kinney."
"Whatever 'flaws' he may have, they aren't physical."
"That may be true now, but that wasn't true the first time I met him. Not that I'm criticizing him, Michael. Hell, he was only fourteen. I didn't expect any fourteen year old boy to knock my socks off! Even then, he had all the basics in place to be the stud he is today, but he still had some spackling and primer to complete before he was ready to slap on the final coat. He was as skinny as a rake which made him look like his Adam's apple was the size of a golf ball. His hands were enormous compared to the rest of him, and his feet were even bigger. His skin was always clear, I'll give him that."
Michael winced. "Yeah, he called me Leopard Boy because I was always spotty. All the girls in our class, and probably half the boys, wanted Brian, Mom. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Granted, his awkward period was short. But he had one. And when he was in it, he looked a lot like that boy. Same color hair, too, even though Brian's hair is straight. Only thing straight about him," she chuckled at her own joke. "I always envied him for the way his hair had those natural gold streaks until he was, shit, about twenty-five!"
Michael crumpled his nose, trying to recall Brian at fourteen and compare him to this boy. He couldn't get there. The bell over the door jingled as Brian, entered the shop. In his Dolce and Gabbana suit, he was nothing like the boy he once was at fourteen, or even like the boy who was in the shop. He kissed Debbie's cheek, and stole Mikey's lemon bar, devouring it in one bite.
"Hey!" Debbie slapped the back of his head. "That was for Michael. He needs his strength. He's a growing boy!"
Brian smoothed his hair back in place, and grinned at her. "Sorry to be the one to tell you this, Deb, but the runt is not getting any taller."
"He is plenty tall," Michael's mother defended. "Not every man has to be six feet whatever you are to get laid."
"Two," Brian said with a smile. "Six-two, and what is the reason Mikey can't get laid, if it's not his height?"
"Shut UP," Michael said with a laugh. "I'm in a relationship, smart ass. I get laid just fine. Mom and I were just recalling what an ugly kid you were."
"I did not say that," Debbie defended as Brian turned to her and raised an inquisitive brow. "I just said when I first met you; you were going through that awkward adolescent stage like that young boy who was in the shop earlier."
"I never went through an awkward stage," Brian defended, casting a languid look at Michael. "I was always the epitome of grace and masculine good looks."
Michael laughed. "Yeah, I remember GRACE falling head first down the stairs in front of the cafeteria and breaking his masculine ankle in two places. That was just before GRACE hobbled around on crutches for weeks."
"I was pushed," Brian reminded him. "By that fucking bully Bobby Charles because his cow of a girlfriend had a fucking and unsolicited crush on me. If I had it to do over, I would have sued his fat butt!"
"Yeah, fifteen year old boys are so well known for their assets."
"He cost me a soccer scholarship. I never had the same lateral movement after that surgery."
"You earned an academic scholarship, so where was the harm?"
"It just sounds better to say you went to college on an athletic scholarship," Brian said with a smile. "Who is this kid you're talking about?"
"A skinny little truant who is probably stealing Michael blind behind his back," Debbie responded. Her son glared at her.
"Mom, don't you have a business to run?"
"It's a slow time, the lunch rush is over. I'll go get you another lemon bar and bring it back. Brian, since I'm going to the diner, have you eaten? I may as well offer you food so you don't eat his meal."
"Thanks, Deb, but I had sushi. Business lunch," he met Michael's challenging eyes with a shrug, as Debbie left.
"Sushi my ass. You were tricking," Michael accused.
Brian faked a look of pain. "Who me? I'm in a 'RELATIONSHIP'." He made quotes with his fingers and Michael laughed.
"Yeah. Your idea of a relationship and Justin's idea of a relationship aren't exactly in lockstep."
Brian placed a hand on the back of Michael's neck and pulled him forward, resting their foreheads together. "I love you, Mikey, but please butt out. Justin and I are doing just fine."
"You would be the last to know."
Brian released him and leaned back. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Michael shook his head. "Shouldn't you be out flogging tampons or something?"
Brian smirked. "Yeah, that's why I'm here. I wanted a testimonial from you since you're always on the rag."
"Ha, ha," Michael deadpanned. "Are you going to the roundup tonight at Babylon?"
"Yee-haw," Brian teased, twirling an imaginary lasso. "My leather chaps are all clean and shiny and my high-heeled cowboy boots and jingly spurs are standing by."
"Get along little doggie," Michael teased and Brian winced.
"It's not 'doggie', it's 'doagie'," he watched Michael sift through the Japanese comics. He was taking a quick glance through his stock to see if the kid took anything with him. He spied a square of paper on the floor and picked it up. It was an old photograph, and his eyes widened as he looked at it.
"Brian, come here! Look at this!"
"If it isn't hard core porn, I'm going to be disappointed."
Brian sighed and walked over to him, leaning an elbow on his shoulder as he looked down at the old photo that had seen a lot of wear and tear. His bored glance grew curious as he took it from Michael and held it up to the light. Two boys were featured in the photograph. Both were smiling at the camera, their arms around each other's waist. One was tall, with dark blond hair and a handsome smile. He wore a Steelers t-shirt and faded jeans. The other was dark, smaller, wearing braces, a windbreaker and cords. Michael and Brian, sixteen years ago. Oddly, the photo was cut off on one side, eliminating someone from the picture. All that remained of this excised person was a glimpse of an arm, clad in red, which snaked behind Brian. Brian's other arm was cut off at the shoulder, obviously stretched across the back of the missing musketeer.
"Why did you bring this in here and who was the other person in the picture and why did you cut him out?" Brian demanded.
"First of all, I didn't bring this in here. I've never seen this picture before. I don't remember being that geeky. "
"Oh yeah, Mikey," Brian assured him. "You were. But I don't remember being that blond."
"Mom said you were until your mid-twenties. Must be about the time you decided sun exposure ages you."
"It does. How old do we look? Christ, when did I wear that stupid t- shirt and WHY?"
"I still have my braces in that shot. I got them taken off just before my seventeenth birthday, so I'd say we were sixteen or so."
Brian stared harder at the images. "It's before I got that scar on my neck, so sixteen sounds right. Shit, I look like I weigh about one-ten."
"Soaking wet," Michael smirked and Brian glared at him.
"Or about as much as one of your thighs, Porky."
"I was not fat! I was stocky!"
"Yeah, like Orson Welles was big-boned. Who was the other person? Remember where this was taken?"
"From the trees, turning colors, I'd say it was fall, and it must be in a park or...not sure. Where else do you see trees like that in Pittsburgh?"
"In the country?" Brian suggested and they exchanged a look. They said it together: "THE FARM!"
Brian rolled his eyes. "That means the other person was..."
"Yeah, had to be," Michael interrupted. "Wow. Haven't thought of that name in years."
"Neither have I," Brian said wistfully. "Wonder what...?"
"I don't know. Never heard after the family moved away, did you?"
"Not a word."
"Do you ever think about...?"
"No," Brian said firmly. "Do you?" "No," Michael agreed. He stared hard at Brian's youthful image and agreed with his mother's assessment that he had once been a little awkwardly put together, but not for long. Even in this picture, his eventual beauty was evident. "That was such an intense time."
Brian cut a glare in his direction. "Don't go there."
"Shut up, Mikey. We agreed never to talk about that. Where did this picture come from?"
"It was on the floor. That kid was standing here."
"The one Mom and I were talking about earlier. He's been coming in a lot, lately. Kind of ragged, thin, mixed race. He seems to be skipping school. He just looks at the Japanese comics and stares at me. Never talks, never buys anything."
"Why would some kid have this picture?"
"He did reach in his pocket, and start to pull something out when Mom interrupted. Maybe it was this. Maybe it fell and he didn't realize it. She scared him away by busting his chops about cutting school."
Brian watched Michael's dark eyes grow wide as he stared at his best friend and let his jaw drop. "Shit!"
"What?" Brian asked, irritated by his gaping expression.
"Mom said something about that kid, and now this and... BRIAN!"
"What is your fucking damage, Mikey? You're scaring me."
"He looks like you. He could be your kid!"
Brian laughed. "How do you figure that? My kid is a baby!"
"Obviously I don't mean Gus and I don't mean a turkey baster and I don't mean jerking off in a cup. I mean the old fashioned way before you were old enough to figure out you were queer."
"I was born queer, Mikey."
"Maybe, but tell that to your dick. And to Lindsay. And to the other girls you've fucked along the way to enlightenment."
Brian winced. "Yeah, all four of them. Big whoop."
"That's four more than I've fucked!"
"Well duh," Brian said with a laugh. "You were a virgin with EVERYONE until you were 26!"
"Shut up, I was 19."
"Brian, this kid looked a lot like you look in this picture. Eyes are darker, hair's curlier, and he's not quite as filled out, but there's a resemblance. He looks about the right age if..."
"If you fucked her," Michael leveled a piercing stare at his friend's face. "Did you?"
That question fell flat between them. Brian's brows knitted together. He looked away, a shadow of a painful memory momentarily shading his features.
Brian could almost smell the clean scent of freshly stacked hay and burning leaves. He could feel the cool fingers of a breeze lift his hair. It was Indian summer, and they were being granted a brief reprieve from the encroaching chill of winter. Pumpkins were stacked by the road to sell to city folk who would take them home and carve them up for Halloween. "Brian! Look at me!" A voice called to him. He glanced at a tall, willowy girl. She was wearing jeans, patched at the knee, and a red sweater. She stood up on the broad, bare back of a chestnut horse. Her waist length bronze colored hair was flagged by the wind, a curly banner surrounding her face like an aureole of flame. She had skin the color of café latte, and just as silken-smooth.
"Get down before you break your neck, you dumb bitch!" He yelled back at her with a laugh. The horse started to move. The girl let out a startled cry. Brian ran towards her, catching her just before she hit the ground. Her weight knocked him down and they rolled over on the soft grass, laughing as the horse stepped past them and walked away to graze.
"Brian!" Michael said with a whiney tone as he watched his best friend act like a dork with this dumb girl.
"Brian!" A grown up Michael brought his friend back from memories of autumn, 1986. "Where are you?"
Brian snatched the picture from his hand and left the shop, without saying goodbye. He left Michael to ponder whether Pandora's box had just been opened and what he might do to close it.
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July 25, 2004