Ok, I had a bad day today, as many of you know. Can't sleep, big meeting tomorrow, early meeting, so I'm all antsy. Decide to answer my emails. One is from Michele who does the reviews of my work on her WLM web site. I THOUGHT I was sending her, and ONLY her, a preview of my first chapter, for her review purposes. But no. I sent it to the list. So I thought, WTF? I'll post formally. It can't be helped, it's out now. So here is surprise number 2. The first chapter. Gee, I hope the rest of this novel goes this well...ARRRGGHHH! Randall
Chapter 1: Madison Avenue, Manhattan
Brian felt uncomfortable in a suit. He'd worn a suit once or twice in Italy, when they had gone to a fancy restaurant or to the opera, but he had gotten out of the habit. Now it felt confining. He noticed that the boss's secretary, who always flirted with him, apparently not getting the clue about his sexual orientation, was glacial today. When he finally went into Kimbrough's ridiculously large and luxurious office, he assumed an attitude of extreme indifference to conceal his instinctive nervousness.
"Have a seat, Brian. You look very tanned and fit," Kimbrough announced in an overly loud voice. He always talked that way, as if volume represented the importance of what he was saying. Brian learned long ago that it didn't.
Brian smiled slightly and suppressed a witty comeback. "I feel great."
"Good, good. I hate to bring you home to unpleasant news, but no sense beating around the bush. Better to come out with it. Brian, I'm going to have to let you go."
Brian chuckled. As if. "What's this about, Felix?"
"You're a nice guy, you have a lot of great ideas, but you're just not committed to this job. I need people who are committed to the firm. You've allowed your personal life to take over. You know how many days you missed when you were going back and forth to Pittsburgh when that kid was so sick? Then you top it off with a vacation. And now this Jeffrey Walker situation hits the papers. It doesn't inspire client confidence to know that a man they entrusted with millions of dollars of spend and a host of trade secrets is testifying that some society doctor got him hooked on drugs and made him into some kind of homosexual love slave."
Brian processed this information before he responded. "That ‘kid' as you put it is my partner's sister. She was fighting for her life. I have a very strong bond with that little girl. I had to be there, to do whatever I could for her, for him, for their mother. And I never missed a deadline. I worked long distance, out of our Pittsburgh office. After Molly finally turned the corner, I was emotionally and physically depleted. I was entitled to a vacation, having never taken one in all the time I've been with this firm, so I cashed in and went for it. Everyone else takes vacations, why can't I? As for the Walker situation, where did you hear that sex slave story? It's bullshit. I'll testify to put him behind bars, which is where he needs to be. My clients don't need to worry. I'm healthy and happy now. I never fucked up their accounts when I was at my worst. Why fear that I would do so now, when I'm healthy?"
"Too much publicity. Too sordid."
"Is it the gay aspect of it?"
Kimbrough shrugged, not wanting to get into discrimination territory. "It adds to the salacious tone, but no, Brian. Many of our best people are gay. They just don't make a scandal out of being so." Brian considered the roster of employees. There were gay men and lesbians in the art department, in support functions, in legal, even, but he couldn't think of another partner with that distinction.
"You know, Felix," Brian deliberately emphasized the use of his first name. "I'm a partner in this firm. You can't just fire me."
"Look at your partnership agreement, Brian. It provides for termination. I can vote you off the island, which is what I've done, along with the concurring votes from the majority of our partners. You'll receive the value of your partnership units, as provided for in the agreement. You haven't been a partner long enough to break the bank, but it should give you with a suitable nest egg while you look for something else. Certainly you'd get a good recommendation from us regarding your work, which is always first rate. It's your personal life that got in the way of your success. You gays are too dramatic about everything. If you're going to compete in this world, you have to learn to take things as they come, like a real man. You can't just fly off the handle at every little bump in the road."
Brian crossed his hands over his knee, forcing calm. "You mean like when Wilson went on a three-month bender when his wife left him for another man? No one even knew where he was for six weeks! We thought he'd been killed or kidnapped or something. Or when McGaw used the company suite at the Waldorf to entertain the temps whom we were paying to do company business, not to suck his dick? Or when Manny refused to come to work for three weeks because he thought his chemical peel made him look like the Phantom of the Opera? Are those the straight guys you're talking about? But the firm didn't vote them off the island, now did it? No, because they're in the club. I'm in that OTHER club, with the women and the people who aren't white reside. We're supposed to be grateful to have been given a shot. So long as we're absolutely perfect, we're welcome to stay."
Brian shook his head slowly, laughing cynically. The irony was beautiful. All of his life he'd been a lone wolf. No strings, no relationships, no complications. His sole focus was his career. His sex life was just an endless string of faceless tricks. His friends accused him of being cold and unfeeling. Then Justin came along and changed everything, including Brian's priorities. Brian consulted a shrink to understand the root of his emotional unavailability. He struggled to express his feelings to Justin. When Molly became ill, he tried to be a resource to Jennifer as well as a beacon of strength to Molly. It all seemed worth it when he and Justin were able to forge a solid, loving relationship after the crisis passed.
But it would seem the powers that be would have no part of Brian finding both emotional and financial success. He was happy at home, well, by god, that inner peace must be threatened! He laughed again, shaking his head. Kimbrough seemed alarmed by his reaction.
"Do you understand what I'm telling you, Brian?" Kimbrough hammered his point home. "You're fired."
Brian suddenly felt as if he had been rolled over by a locomotive. He was flat, numb, in shock. "When do I...?"
"Now. We'll pay you through the end of the month, but better that you not stay around. Your severance, in the form of the value of your partnership units, should arrive in the mail within the week. Good luck to you."
"What about Cynthia?" Brian had brought her with him from Pittsburgh. What was her fate to be?
"Who is Cynthia?" Kimbrough wouldn't trouble himself with knowing the names of underlings.
"My creative assistant."
Kimbrough shrugged. "Nothing to do with her."
Brian nodded, relieved, and stood up, willing his knees not to shake. He extended an outstretched hand to the man, who shook it limply. "Thanks for the opportunities, Felix. I've enjoyed it."
Kimbrough turned red, unsure of how to accept such a gracious response. Brian left him with that and proceeded to his office where he closed the door and sat down behind his desk, staring blankly out the window at the city.
A restaurant in Chinatown...
The lunch crowd had thinned out and Leo Chang watched Justin with inscrutable delight as the young man devoured his mandarin noodles while extolling the virtues of honeymooning in Italy. After all that Justin and Brian had been through, because of the illness of Justin's sister, and also because of the evil of Leo's former friend, Jeffrey, Leo was delighted that their sojourn had been an unqualified success. As part of a long-term gay partnership, Leo was a sucker for happy endings.
"Justin, it sounds divine. What was your favorite stop?"
Justin wrinkled his nose. Choosing one place was almost impossible. "The art in Rome and Florence was incredible, of course. Venice was sooooo romantic, with the canals and the gondolas, and this incredibly soft light. Pompeii was like stepping back in time, it's so well-preserved. I loved riding motorcycles through Tuscany but...I'd have to say Portofino was my favorite stop."
"I've always wanted to go there. Tell."
Justin described a secluded cove in an azure sea, with terraced hillsides overlooking the water. Stucco buildings surrounded the waterfront and dotted the hillsides, each structure painted lemon yellow or turquoise or terra cotta. Swank jewelry stores and upscale restaurants lured wealthy tourists to the natural beauty and seclusion of this place.
"We stayed in a little pensione overlooking the sea," Justin said dreamily to the older man. "We'd ridden our motorcycles there, so we had very little luggage. We always stored our main stuff in the big hotels, in big cities. We liked to ride the bikes to the smaller places. Our room was huge with shutters over the windows and shuttered doors that opened onto a small veranda. It was so romantic. The bed was draped in white gauze and there was no television, no radio. We spent one whole day in bed, having all three meals delivered to the room. We had the sun in the morning and the sound of the ocean all night."
Leo reached across the table and patted his hand. "Sounds divine. If my old dear, Bill, had a romantic bone in his body, I'd drag him there tomorrow."
"Most people think Brian isn't romantic either, but he is. Our bathtub was like a small wading pool, lined in ceramic tile. We floated rose petals on the water. Okay, I was the one who gathered them off of the arrangement in our room and put them in the water like they did in a movie I saw once. Brian complained the petals stuck to his skin, but we enjoyed the hottest water sex since mating season among the dolphins!" He blushed at the memory. "Brian called it our Portofino Fuckfest. But it was much more than that. We connected on so many levels in that quiet little hotel in that beautiful little town. We walked, talked, dreamed, ate and fucked." He looked down at the table, embarrassed to have gushed the way he did, but unable to curb his enthusiasm.
Leo smiled at Justin's beaming, beautiful face. "Honey, you two have earned a little happiness after all you've been through together. Bravo!"
"Thanks Leo. I've never been this happy in all my life."
Leo laughed. "That long, huh? I have shoes older than you. Well, let's leave behind your romantic idylls before I die of jealousy, and let me tell you about school."
"I can get you into the Art Institute in the fall, but not before."
"Be patient. You can help me out in the meantime. I'm opening a new gallery in Tribeca and I need someone to be my eyes and ears as we start to hang it. You can learn about the business end of your chosen profession. How we decide what to buy, how we price, what it's like dealing with the artists, and you'll meet some very well-known artists as well as some very wealthy collectors."
"I'd love to do that, Leo!"
"First you should hear how dreadful the pay is, how long the hours are and how there are no benefits, and then you can thank me for my generosity," Leo teased and Justin grinned at him.
"I don't care. It's not as if I need a lot of money. Brian's rich, and he pays for everything. He calls my money, ‘pocket change'. He'd be thrilled for me to have this opportunity."
"Then it's a deal," Leo reached across the table to shake his hand and Justin grinned at him, excited by the prospects of learning about the art world from the inside out.
Once he was sure of his composure, Brian called Cynthia into his office and she closed the door, her expression concerned. "Brian, what's wrong? The rumor mill is working overtime."
"First of all, you're fine. Nothing's changing with you. Your job is secure. I have that straight from Kimbrough's mouth."
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"It is." He hesitated, then said, "I'm leaving, Cyn."
"Leaving? You just got back."
"I've been fired."
She stared at him, her face going pale. "B-but you're a partner."
"True, there must be another word for it. Termination, maybe. But the effect is the same. I'm gone."
"Why? You have a huge portfolio of clients! You've won awards! You've made this place a ton of money. Why would they ever let you get away?"
"Because I'm a lazy, scandal-mongering faggot is the word I'm getting."
"Lazy? You're a workaholic. You may be gay, but what's with the scandal mongering? You mean that horrible stuff with Jeffrey?" He nodded. She looked angry. "That wasn't your fault! You were a victim of that sleazoid!"
"Doesn't matter. The facts remain the same. I'm outa here."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. Have a drink for one thing. Maybe more. Dust off my resume, start looking for a job. Shit, I don't know, Cyn."
"I'm so sorry," she rushed over to him, leaning over his chair to embrace him tightly, even though she knew he was adverse to such displays of emotion. He disengaged as quickly as possible and she returned to her chair, dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex that she pulled from a pocket.
"Don't ever let them make you cry, Cyn. It's not worth it," he gently cautioned her.
"Brian, wherever you land, I want to go there, too. Working with you is what I like most about this job. Promise me you'll bring me aboard at whatever firm that hires you."
"I promise you if I have the stroke to do so, I will. I like working with you, too, Cyn. Will you do me a favor?"
"Will you have my personal stuff packed up and delivered to my home?"
"Of course I will. Oh Brian, this is just so fucking wrong!" She began to cry and he sighed and swiveled his chair to look out the windows again, gazing at a cityscape that suddenly looked hostile to him.
Lydia Johnson's office...
Doctor's Notes: BK has returned to New York following a month in Italy with his domestic partner, JT. This is our first meeting since his return, and he requested a ‘squeeze-in" appointment that I was glad to accommodate. What follows is an excerpt from the transcript.
Doctor: Welcome back, Brian.
BK: Thanks, Lydia.
Doctor: You look tanned and very relaxed.
BK: (Chuckles) Do I? Must be the scotch for that relaxed part.
Doctor: Little early for that, isn't it?
Doctor: Was Italy wonderful?
BK: It was a dream. Too good to be true.
Doctor: That sounds ominous.
BK: Well, I've had better homecomings.
Doctor: Want to talk about it?
BK: I got fired.
Doctor: Wow. Why?
BK: Given reason? Letting my personal life interfere with business. How's that for a laugh? Brian Kinney's personal life. Real reason? I'm a faggot, therefore I'm not entitled to any other fallibility. Like sick family members, or stalkers, or even vacations, apparently.
Doctor: I see. How do you feel about this, Brian?
BK: Angry, hurt, angry, confused, angry, scared, angry.
Doctor: Nothing unnatural about any of those emotions. You'll feel many more. You weren't born with this job. You'll find work. The important thing to do now is to prevent it from forcing you into a black hole of depression.
BK: Lydia, I have bills to pay. Lots of bills. I have an expensive home to support. I have a son to support. I have a lover to support. I've never been out of work. This fucking vacation to Italy cost me a bloody fortune. It's not even half paid for. When I get those credit card bills, I'll go into shock. The market ditched, so my investments are way down...where am I supposed to go to manufacture this money? Hell, I'll lose my medical insurance at the end of the month. I won't even be able to pay you.
Doctor: And you'll be wearing raggedy jeans tied with a string and sleeping on cardboard. Don't take it to the worst extreme, Brian. Be logical. Sit down with your financial advisor and figure out what you have to live on and what you need to live on and for how long can you maintain the status quo without additional income. Make adjustments that make sense, but don't panic. You're young and smart and experienced. You'll be employed long before your cushion depletes.
BK: (Sighs.) This will teach me.
Doctor: Meaning what?
BK: I have no right to be happy. I feel happy for the first time in my fucking life and SHAZAM, I'm out of work. Bad boy, no happiness for Brian.
Doctor: You mean happiness with Justin?
Doctor: Now you listen to me, Brian. Do NOT sabotage your relationship because you feel it has brought you retribution from the fates. There's no one watching you with an abacus in one hand, totaling your happiness/unhappiness factors. You lose Justin now, you have absolutely no center. This is what a loving partner is for. Not just for the good times, but to help you get through the tough times, as well. You owe him the opportunity to do just that. You also owe that to yourself.
BK: Yes, I'm sure you're right, Lydia. But I don't need anyone to feel sorry for me, least of all Justin.
Doctor: Not when you're so good at it yourself.
BK: (Stares hard at Doctor) I've missed you, Lydia. You always know how to call me on my shit.
Doctor: Damn straight I do. Now, another thing. You're not going to use this as an excuse to avoid the sessions with me. We'll work out payment arrangements. We've come too far to turn back. You're also not going to make Justin believe all is well. You're going to have enough respect for him to share with him how you really feel, including your fears and insecurities. You will thus give him a chance to be a stand-up guy. It's only fair. You're in this together.
BK: That's a heavy burden on a kid.
Doctor: He's been through a lot already, Brian. He's not your typical kid.
BK: That's true.
Doctor: Right now you're numb. You're not thinking clearly. But one person I want you to meet with after you meet with your financial advisor, is an employment attorney.
Doctor: Find out what your rights are and make sure you're getting what's due you. Don't leave money on the table. Maybe there's nothing there to be had, but make sure of that fact.
BK: I don't even know an employment lawyer.
Doctor: I'll give you my brother's name. He's a partner in a large firm on Wall Street. He practices Securities Law, but I'm sure he can refer you to someone.
BK: (Smiles.) What did your mother feed you guys to produce such high achieving kids?
Doctor: Self-confidence, Brian. It's a delicious treat to give a child.
BK: (Nodding.) I'll remember to whip some up for Gus.
Doctor's notes: BK came home from a desperately needed recuperative holiday to find himself in the midst of a crisis: the loss of his employment. He centers much of his self-worth around his financial success. This was one area he could seemingly control when everything else in his life was in disarray. Since becoming partners with JT, his other crutch for showing himself to be worthy, promiscuous sex, has been curtailed. So he is being forced to stand on his own two feet with no crutches whatsoever, and he is currently wobbling. This crisis will be a test of his partner's devotion to him and of Brian's ability to overcome a personal disaster without falling back into bad habits or becoming enmeshed in a depressive spiral. Whether he has learned coping tools from his prior therapy will be severely tested.
Soho, the loft...
Justin looked up from the stove as Brian entered the loft, greeting him with a smile. "Guess what I'm cooking?"
"Jambalaya?" Brian said dully as he sat down at the table and loosened his tie. Justin handed him a beer and leaned over to kiss him. He wondered at Brian's half-hearted return caress.
"Close. Shrimp scampi. Remember that scampi we had in Naples?"
"You haven't had enough Italian food?"
"Never enough, as a wise man once told me. What's wrong? Bad day? I called but they said you left early."
"I went to see Lydia."
"Oh? That wasn't planned, was it?"
"You have a problem with it?" Brian snapped and Justin held up his hands in surrender.
"Put down the ax, Lizzie Borden. I'm just saying..."
"Sorry," Brian shook his head and went into the bedroom, changing out of his suit and into his sweats. He approached Justin at the stove, leaning against his back, resting his chin on his shoulder. "Smells good." Justin smiled and offered him a spoonful, which Brian declined. "I can wait."
"What's wrong, Brian? Was it that bad going back? Are you totally buried?"
"I got fired."
Justin laughed. "Yeah, right."
Brian walked over to the sofa and sat down, resting his fists against his closed eyes, battling a headache he had suffered from for most of the day. Justin felt something cold and clammy begin in him as he looked at his lover. He instantly knew this was no joke. He turned the flame down low under the saucepan and walked over to Brian, sitting beside him and stretching an arm over his shoulders. Brian was still for a minute, then he took Justin in his arms, pressing his cheek to his chest as Justin stroked his back gently, neither of them talking. Finally, Justin said, "I'm sorry, Brian. But we'll be okay."
Brian leaned back to look up at him. "How do you figure that?"
"We're both young," he smiled. "Well, relatively young, in your case. We're both healthy, smart, good looking. You have a degree and experience. I have a job now."
"Wait a minute. You have a job?"
"Yes, Leo offered me a job today to work at his new gallery in Tribeca. I'll be his assistant, I guess. It doesn't pay a lot, but it's something. You know what? I'm going to ask for more money. He's expecting a lot of me. He should pay me more, especially now."
Brian had to laugh. "Let me get this straight. The day I lose my job, you get one?"
"Yeah, but making a fraction of what you earn, unfortunately. How much do you earn, anyway?"
"How much do you think I earn, Justin?"
"I've never really thought about it," he said honestly. He came up with a number that he shared with Brian, believing it to be extravagant.
Brian laughed. "To live in a loft like this in Soho and enjoy the perqs we have? Try twice that, more if the firm is having a good year."
Justin's eyes grew wide. "Jesus!"
"Yeah, try finding those jobs on the ground, Justin. This is a big problem. We can't both work minimum wage jobs. Even if I got a job as an ad exec somewhere, we could never live the way we do now. Not happening."
Justin shrugged. "So we don't live the way we do now. So what? I don't have any friends, and neither do you, not real friends, who live the way we do now. But they're still happy enough. We can be too. This is just stuff, Brian. It's great stuff, and I love it here, but I can live without it."
"It's not just ‘stuff' to me, Justin. It's evidence. It's proof that I've done something with my life; that it means something."
Justin got up, walked over to the bureau in the bedroom and returned with a frame, putting it in Brian's hands. It was the picture of Justin and Gus at Gus's first birthday. "This is something you've done that means something. Your son. Our relationship. The rest is just junk you've purchased."
Brian sighed and put the picture down, pulling Justin onto his lap. "I know, I know, I'm just scared, Justin. Really scared."
"We could move in with my mom, if we needed to, while you looked for work."
Brian's eyes grew wide. "In Pittsburgh? You, me, Jen and Molly in the condo together?"
"Why not? They both adore you since you single-handedly saved Mol's life," he teased. It was only a half-joke. They did adore Brian.
Brian met his innocent gaze and began to laugh. "Only you could make me laugh tonight." He leaned over and kissed him deeply. "We're a long way from having to bunk with relatives, kid."
"I'm just saying..."
"I know what you're saying. Tomorrow, I'm making an appointment with my financial advisor and I want you to go with me. You also need to know where we stand, financially."
"Okay," Justin said, pleased to be included in such a grown-up and serious discussion. "Are you hungry at all?"
"For your ass," Brian said simply and Justin grinned.
"Some things never change. Let's go. The scampi can wait."
Brian took his hand and went into the bedroom with him, falling back on the bed and watching Justin crawl up his torso like a jungle cat. He sighed when he felt the boy's lips on his chin, his neck, his shoulder. He held up his arms so Justin could skim off his sweatshirt and moaned when Justin nibbled on a taut brown nipple. Brian slid his hands along the waistband of Justin's jeans until he got to the front and unzipped them, sliding them over his hips.
Justin kicked them off along with his underwear and popped Brian's waistband under his erection, sucking the thick, growing shaft into his throat. Brian moaned at the sensation, burying both hands in Justin's fair hair. Pain management 101, Brian thought to himself. Boosted by his feelings for his partner, endorphins flooded his bloodstream to chase away depression. He rolled Justin beneath him, kissing him, dominating him, claiming his body as his own turf.
Justin didn't mind that Brian was a little rough as he flipped him over and looped an arm under him, pulling him up to his knees with his head and shoulders still flat on the mattress. Brian opened him up with a lubricated index finger, drilling Justin's snug hole and leaving behind enough lubricant to make his penetration painless. He leaned over and chewed at the back of Justin's neck as his hand guided his penis past the tight circumference of Justin's sphincter and up the open canal.
Justin moaned and undulated his rectal wall, caressing his lover's erection and urging him deeper, wanting to feel him press against his prostate and create that familiar thrill. It happened quickly and Brian smiled as he felt his lover respond to the contact, going into his rhythmic thrusts in and out of his tight, welcoming ass. They fit as if a master carpenter milled their bodies to matching spec's in order to ensure a tight fit. Justin slipped a hand down his belly to stroke his fiery erection, timing his strokes to meet Brian's thrusts.
As Brian picked up the pace, so did Justin. Their orgasms were almost perfectly timed to be mutual, and they lay there in an exhausted, sweaty tangle of limbs for awhile. Finally, Brian said, "Now I'm hungry."
Justin laughed, kissed him, and left the bed, first for the bathroom, then the kitchen. "I'll expect you to do this when I'm the breadwinner," Justin taunted him as he paused to pull on his discarded jeans. Brian did the same with his sweats and padded barefoot into the kitchen with him.
"Take it up the ass, you mean?"
Justin laughed. "No, you already do that. Cook."
"I hope you like cold cereal and ice cream," Brian said with a smirk.
"I'll buy you the Joy of Cooking."
"As long as I have two nickels to rub together, we're eating out when it's my turn to cook."
Justin laughed, busying himself with his cooking, while Brian watched him, amazed by how much better he felt already. A year ago he would've run to cover and hidden, licking his wounds. He would've drank too much, downed a variety of drugs and fucked anything that moved. At the end of the evening, he would be alone, scared and miserable. How sad was that? "Hey Justin..."
"I love you."
Justin glanced over at him and grinned. "I know, I know. God, do you have to tell me that so often? I'm really sick of hearing it."
Their eyes met and Brian smirked at him. "You little fucker."
"Is that a complaint?"
"What do you think?"
"I think not."
"I think you're right."
"I love you too."
"Yeah, yeah," Brian said with a smile. "Tell me something I don't know." With that, he turned on the television, aimlessly flipping through the channels.
|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