Jennifer greeted Brian at the door to her condo with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. He felt as if he had just returned from the wars, and maybe that wasn't far off from his confrontation with Melanie. Molly interrupted them, running up to him and laughing as he lifted her off her feet and held her up, smiling into her beaming face. She had some glow back, along with short, glossy strawberry blonde hair. She had turned into a pretty girl somewhere between childhood and adolescence.
"Have you been taking care of your bro's bone marrow?" he teased and she giggled as she pecked his cheek before he let her down gently to her feet.
"Yes. You look so handsome, Brian. As always!"
"Don't fill his head with flattery," Justin cautioned, leaning in the entry to the living room. "He's already hard enough to live with."
"Never hard enough," Brian quipped, drawing a wince from his lover. Molly took Brian's hand, leading him towards the stairs.
"Come with me, I have something to show you."
Brian cast a helpless shrug at her brother as he followed her up to her room.
Thirty minutes later, Justin went in search of his lover. He laughed at the incongruous site of Brian Kinney ensconced among the pink tulle pillows and plush stuffed animals that occupied most of Molly's bed. She sat cross-legged at his feet, meticulously leafing through a thick binder, a page at a time. It was her scrapbook of her illness, containing cards and notes and drawings from well-wishers, along with the enclosure cards from flowers and other gifts.
"Mom says you have to go to bed, Mol," Justin announced. "And we have people waiting for us, Brian."
"Noooo!" She complained. "I never get to see Brian anymore!"
"We talk on the phone at least twice a week, don't we?" Brian prompted her. "And we send each other emails."
"It's not the same as seeing your face," she grumbled, spreading her fingers on his cheek. Brian kissed the back of her hand, then stood up.
"I guess I'm being booted, Molly. Give me a hug."
She stood to embrace him and he held her gently, pleased that she felt far more substantial in his arms than she did at the height of her fragility. "You take care of yourself, Molly. That prince is lurking somewhere, waiting to pounce when you're a little older, glass slipper in hand. Until then, your loyal stand-in insists that you do what your mom and your doctors tell you to do to stay healthy."
"I will. I do. I love you, Brian. I'm sorry Dr. Jeff turned out to be so mean."
Brian sighed, wondering how much she knew. "Me too. Take care, princess," he kissed her forehead and Justin waved at his sister.
"Bye, Mol." He didn't expect the same enthusiasm that she showed Brian and he wasn't disappointed.
"See ya, Justin."
At Babylon, Brian and Mikey disappeared into the bathroom moments after Brian and Justin arrived. Unworried about what they were doing in there, Justin and Ben went to the dance floor. Emmett was already dancing and didn't even notice when Ted and Blake walked in together.
"Tell me again how those two found each other after everything that happened," Justin asked Ben, watching the couple snuggle together at the bar.
Ben laughed. "Remember when Ted went into rehab after his addiction to booze and pain killers? Well, Blake, who had kicked his crystal dependency, was working there as a staffer. He was a strong shoulder for Teddy and poor Em never had a chance. I think Ted has been hung up on Blake since the night he met him, and it appears reciprocal. They both have been chemical-free, they don't even drink. Teddy is doing well with his financial advisor business and Blake has continued his work in rehab. It seems to be a good thing for everyone but Em."
"Poor Emmett," Justin said softly, glancing over at him, noting he was dancing with great abandon, still unaware of their entrance.
"Emmett always bounces back. How is Brian doing?"
Justin shrugged, telling him nothing. "Fine."
Ben let it go, respecting the position Justin found himself in through no fault of his own.
In the bathroom, Michael and Brian passed a joint back and forth as they sat on the round vinyl settee in the middle of the room. All around them men peed at urinals, made out, and had sex in booths after beginning the preliminaries in the open. But it was quieter than on the floor of the club, and they could talk.
"Jail?" Michael insisted, his eyes wide with horror. Brian shrugged. "Did you get raped?"
"I should be so lucky. I was alone in a holding cell. I didn't even jerk off."
"What did you do?"
"Honestly, Mikey, I thought. I thought a lot."
"About when my life went off track and why. About what I could or should do to fix it. About where I was going, what was happening. In a strange way, those motherfuckers did me a favor."
Michael sighed and leaned his shoulder against Brian's, touching his forehead to his shoulder. "That's an incredibly Brian thing to say."
"Whatever, it's true."
"How did they do you a favor?"
"Because they made me see what it is I have to do."
Brian smiled down at his best friend. "Survive, Mikey. I have to survive. And I have to win."
"Not just for me. Not just for my ego. For Justin, and for Lindsay and my kids. For Molly, even for Shea. I can't let them get away with this. No matter what it costs me personally, I will ride them all the way down."
Brian winced. "Gus."
"You said KIDS, plural."
"Molly, Shea, whatever."
Michael narrowed his eyes at him. "Please tell me you and Justin aren't about to do that popular faggoty thing and adopt a baby!"
Brian snorted derisively. "Smoking crack again? Yeah, Mikey, adopting a baby is just what I need right now. I couldn't adopt a cat. Let it go."
"Brian please!" Emmett interrupted them, looking desperate as he tugged on Brian's hand. "PLEASE come dance with me and make it look like you mean it!"
Brian smirked at Emmett and pulled free. "I told you before, Em, I'm taken."
"It's not a joke. That fucking Ted is here with that fucking crystal queen, Blake, and you have to dance with me and make it look sexy! You must!"
Michael nodded, urging Brian to his feet, and he reluctantly
followed Emmett to the dance floor to convince Ted what a mistake he had made
with a single dance.
"Hotel sex," Justin said with a sigh, dropping back into Brian's arms following a heated bout of fucking. "I think it has a special hotness."
Brian laughed. "It's always hot with us."
"True. Now will you tell me where we're going?"
"What? And ruin your fun?"
"We'll be there tomorrow. Isn't that soon enough?"
Justin sighed, not interested enough to push the issue. He was enjoying seeing Brian more relaxed and their destination was really unimportant. It was the time they spent together that mattered to him. "Did you tell Mikey about Linds being knocked up?"
"I didn't think so, but he was pressing me, acting like he already knew something, to get the confirmation out of me. I didn't fall for it."
"A lot of us are, you know."
"I know you are. If I'm not awake by nine, wake me up, okay? I don't want to get a late start."
"Do you realize this is the same room you had in this hotel when Molly was so sick and Jeffrey was at his worst?"
Brian winced. "I didn't until now. Thanks for reminding me."
Justin giggled and snuggled up close to Brian's lean frame. "But even with all your trouble, things are so much better now, aren't they?"
"Molly's practically as good as new. Jeffrey's in jail. We're stronger than ever. You're health is a hundred times better than it was then, as is your mental outlook. Things were a lot worse then."
Brian nodded, absently stroking his fingers through Justin's silky hair. "You're right. Things were a lot worse. I guess we're lucky, in some ways."
"We're together, aren't we? We're lucky in every way."
Brian leaned over to kiss him goodnight, suddenly feeling peaceful enough to sleep.
Justin awoke from a nap and found they were on a small two-lane road rather than an interstate highway. It was evening, and all around them was a rural landscape broken by the occasional small town. "Where are we now?" He asked with a stretch and a yawn.
"On Highway 136."
"I mean what state?"
"Still in Illinois, you slept through the bustling town of Carthage."
"I'm sure I wasn't the first to do that."
Justin looked at a road sign advertising Nauvoo and the Mormon temple there. He remembered studying the Mormons, who began the long trek to Utah from Nauvoo following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and the resulting backlash among the citizens of Nauvoo against the Mormon presence there. He suspected the historical significance of this place was not what drew them from New York City. Brian showed no signs of slowing down or stopping, and Justin winced.
"I need to pee."
"We'll be there in a few. Can you wait?"
A large body of water suddenly stretched in front of them, spanned by a modern bridge. To his right was a dam that powered an electrical plant, and straight ahead was a small, picturesque town built high on a bluff. "What river is that?" Justin asked and Brian smiled.
"That's the mighty Missisip', Huck Finn."
Justin stared at the rapidly running water as they crossed the bridge, and were greeted by a sign that read "Keokuk, Iowa, Population 13,000." His eyes grew wide as he stared at his lover's impassive profile.
"What are you up to, Brian?"
"Who me? Don't be so suspicious. I just thought a little small town peace and quiet would be therapeutic."
"Right. And we went through how many small towns to get here? And it just happens to be Shea's hometown?"
"Help me find Grand Avenue. We can talk about the rest when
we get where we're going."
They found a large room in a gracious mansion overlooking the river. The owner had converted the house into a bed and breakfast, and Brian had chosen this accommodation over the more sterile low-end hotel choices. There were no luxury hotels in Keokuk. Justin flopped down on the four poster king sized bed, watching Brian stare out the bay windows at the river.
"Brian, can you believe what the old lady said?" He sniggered and Brian shrugged.
"Homophobes are everywhere."
"I don't think she was being homophobic," Justin defended the sweet-faced old woman who owned the B & B and who checked them in upon arrival. She looked from one handsome man to the other and smiled.
"Are you boys brothers?" She had asked.
Brian said a firm "no" as he returned his credit card to his wallet after she imprinted it. Justin volunteered that they were partners, ignoring Brian's glare, and she beamed at them and said,
"Oh, you're my first homosexuals!"
Thinking back on it, Justin laughed again. "When she asked us what we liked for breakfast and you asked if she had any homosexual food, I thought she would drop through the floor. You can be so bad."
Brian glanced over his shoulder at him. "I'd show you how bad I can be if I wasn't so fucking tired from driving for two days."
"I told you I'd drive part of the way."
"You can on the way home."
"Come lie down with me for a minute."
Brian conceded to his invitation and stretched out beside him. Both were still fully dressed as they snuggled into a familiar embrace. Justin was silent for a moment, then said, "What are you hoping to accomplish with this visit?"
"Nothing, probably. But I have to try, Justin. I have to make those people understand their son is gravely ill and he needs them now. He's a kid. Whatever else he is and whatever else he's done, he's their son and he's sick and scared and alone. His old man works and Shea is still young enough to be on his insurance. He's only going to need more and more medical attention as this disease progresses. We can't afford to pay for it, and we can only give him so much of our time. If they won't step up to the plate, I'm not abandoning him, but god damn it, they need to look their callous behavior flat in the face."
Justin raised himself to one elbow, staring down at his lover. "Not everyone is as balls to the wall as you are, Brian. People live their whole life in denial and self-righteous fear. His old man just may punch you out."
"So? Let him. I've had a hell of a lot worse than that lately, and I learned how to duck a punch when I was seven. Shea's mother sounded as if she wanted to help, but was afraid of her husband. I want her to have to look at what she's doing, turning her back on her child because of her husband's brutish behavior. Bullshit. I thought about this a lot. There is nothing Gus could do to make me turn my back on him. He could be a mass murderer, and he's still my son. I'd still support him emotionally, even if I disapproved of every aspect of his life. It's blood."
"But you can't make someone feel something, Brian. Look at your father. Look at mine. They abused us both in different ways."
"Don't get me started on your old man, and as for Jack, I've made peace with that memory. Well, sort of. I know I can't make him embrace his son's gayness but I sure as shit can make them face his impending death."
"You think he's not going to make it?"
Brian met his eyes and nodded. Justin winced. Brian pulled him down into his arms. "I know. It's hard. But he just isn't combating it, and frankly, he's given up."
"That makes me so sad."
"I know, babe."
Justin reached up for a kiss. Brian kissed him back. A familiar thrill passed between them, and they both smiled as they realized what was coming next. They undressed each other, arranging the pillows to best accommodate their bodies as they started with leisurely kissing and gentle exploration of the other's body. As the heat increased, so did the intensity of their exploration. When the passion between them began to peak, they both shifted into the urgent pursuit of their goal of shared release. Brian butted Justin with his forehead as he dug his way to his neck, sucking lightly at his lover's tender skin. Justin groaned and squeezed Brian's hard biceps in his fists, memorizing the unforgiving hardness of his body.
Brian ground his steely erection against Justin's pelvis and Justin suddenly gripped Brian's face in both hands, staring up at his flushed, raptured countenance.
"I want to fuck you," he said, and Brian smiled.
"No, I mean I want to fuck YOU."
Brian hesitated for only as long as it took him to reshuffle the erotic images playing in his brain, then he leaned down and kissed Justin before dismounting and stretching out on his stomach on the bed. Justin stared down at Brian's long, lean frame, running his hand across the firm rise of his butt. He preferred being the bottom, liking nothing better than feeling Brian's hard dick penetrate his body, but sometimes he needed this reassignment of roles. Not only was it erotic, but it also solidified his position of strength in their relationship, lest Brian start thinking of him as the "little woman".
He ran his tongue down Brian's spine, using his tongue to probe
where his dick would soon follow.
Shea Hennessey's family lived in a house that was nothing like the elegant mansion where Brian and Justin were staying. The small shingled home was two rooms wide and several rooms long with a narrow front porch. Someone had taken a lot of time in the garden, which was in full bloom. The other houses on the block were almost identical with variations only in trim color and how well the place was maintained. A dog barked when Brian rang the doorbell, with Justin standing by, nervously.
Suddenly, the porch light was illuminated and the door opened, a screen door separating a tall, paunchy man and a German Shepherd mix dog from the visitors. The sound of a television playing in the background underscored the scene. It sounded like a baseball game.
"I ain't buying nothing," the man said, then snapped. "Shut up, Brutus!"
The dog stopped barking and slunk off into the interior of the house.
"I'm not selling anything," Brian said, watching the man look past him to the Corvette at the curb.
"Is that your car?"
"Nice. So what do you want?"
"My name is Brian Kinney and this is Justin Taylor. We want to talk to you about your son."
"Which one? I got three."
The older man frowned. "Don't have no son named Shea. Are you that fairy who called me from New York?"
A woman joined him at the door, dark-haired and once pretty, faded by a hard life. She pulled her quilted robe close and looked worried as she focused on her husband. "What is it, Seamus?"
"Mrs. Hennessey, I'm Brian Kinney and I drove all the way from New York City to talk to you about your son, Shea."
"Is he…?" She pressed a shaking hand to her lips and Brian sighed.
"No. Not yet."
"Come in," she said, pushing the door open as her husband glared at her.
"What the hell are you doing, Mary?"
"At least we can hear them out."
"They have nothing to say that I want to hear. I'm watching the game."
"Well, I want to hear it," she said bravely. "Come in."
The barking dog was all bluff, sidling over to the strangers for a head rub as Shea's mother led them into a small parlor that appeared unused. The antique furnishings had obviously passed down through the family, threadbare and in need of refinishing, none of the pieces particularly unique, despite the age. She sat across from them, still clutching her robe. The television droning on in the den penetrated the tense silence. Justin looked at the family pictures decorating table tops and shelves, wondering which of these babies, these small children were Shea. They all looked similar, with dark hair and tall, lean bodies.
"How do you know Shea?" she asked.
Brian shrugged. "He tried to pick me up in a bar."
Justin winced at his unfailing honesty. Sugar coating things never had any meaning at all to Brian. Shea's mother looked confused. She obviously hadn't allowed her mind to enter the realm of all-male sexuality, and had no idea what men did together or why.
"I don't understand."
"He was a hustler, Mrs. Hennessey. A hooker. He was turning tricks, with men who paid him for sex."
"Brian…" Justin rested his hand on his lover's arm, but Brian shook his head. He had no intention of shielding these people from the cold truth.
"He came to New York City as a child, with no skills, no ability to get a real job. What did you think he did to survive?"
"I… I don't know," she twisted her hands together as if wringing out a rag.
"He peddled his ass. It's the only commodity he had to sell."
"To sickos like you," Shea's father lurked in the doorway, holding a fresh can of beer as he glared at them.
"Exactly," Brian again pulled no punches. "Except I don't do that anymore. I have a partner now," he covered Justin's hand with his as the older man winced in disgust. "When Shea tried to hook up with me, I realized he was sick. I was with a friend who runs a shelter for HIV-positive youths, and she got him a room there and arranged for a medical exam. The doctor verified what we suspected. Shea is not only HIV-positive, but he has full-blown AIDS."
His father snorted contemptuously, refusing to sit down in the same room with these unwelcome visitors. "Because of perverts like you."
"No," Justin angrily responded. "Because you ran him out of his home and let him live on the street like an animal, with no food, no shelter, no hope. Wherever Shea got the germ, the disease began in this house with your homophobia and cruelty that left him no choice except to run!"
"Listen, you little faggot, if you think I'll let you sit there and insult me in my own home, you're about to learn a lesson you won't forget!"
Justin stood up, drawing all of his one-hundred and forty pounds of strength into the contest against two-hundred and twenty pounds of power built up over decades of hard, manual labor. "Bring it on," he challenged and Brian grabbed the back of Justin's waistband and pulled him back down to the sofa. "Get a grip, Rocky. No one is hitting anyone."
"Don't be so sure of that," Shea's father seethed and Brian laughed at him.
"I grew up with a drunk, abusive mick father, Mr. Hennessey. Trust me, you don't want to take me on. I have a lot of repressed hostility to unleash."
Hennessey took in the tall, lean Irishman and calculated there was steel beneath that smooth flesh and the kind of blind rage that felt no pain and never stopped until someone was unconscious. Brian was over twenty years younger and in much better shape. Hennessey decided not to risk it.
"What the fuck do you want?"
"I want you to take some responsibility for your child who is seventeen-hundred miles away from home, dying." Brian said bluntly, and the silence that ensued was finally broken by a sob from Shea's mother.
"It's none of your god damned business!" Hennessey insisted to Brian, and then glared at his weeping wife.
"Yes, it is my business. It became my business when I sat there with him when he got the news. It was my business when Justin and I spent many hours at the hospital with Shea as he battled one infection after another. It's my business because I care about Shea, and I don't want him to die feeling as if no one in the whole fucking world cares if he's gone except for two virtual strangers."
Justin gripped Brian's hand tightly as he surged with pride for his lover, and Brian squeezed Justin's hand in response. Hennessey glowered at them. "What do you expect us to do? We can't cure him!"
"I expect you to sit by his bedside and hold his hand and tell him you love him and ease his fear and help him face the inevitable. Exactly what I would do if it were my son."
"If you fucking faggots had kids maybe you'd know better how they let you down."
"I do have a son, and another kid on the way, so don't even try to assume anything about my life. It's not important, anyway. What matters here is Shea. He needs your insurance, I assume you have it at whatever plant that employs you."
"Yeah, I got insurance. So?"
"So, he needs it to get adequate care. You need to bring him home. You need to get him a doctor here, or near here. You need to take on the responsibility you started when you knocked her up, because it won't end until he's dead. You will bury him, Mr. Hennessey. He won't bury you. And then your trial will be over. You wouldn't treat your dog the way you're treating your clan-blood, your bairn."
Hennessey flinched at Brian's invocation of the Irish connection. "I…I thought they had a cure for that crap, or the next thing to it. Some cocktail."
"It's no cure. And different people respond differently to it. Shea isn't tolerating it well."
"How long has he got?"
"I'm no mage. He could die tomorrow. He could get control of his levels and live for several years, I don't think anyone knows. He's getting one infection after another. It's not looking good."
His mother stood up, her tears stopped. "Will you drive me back to New York with you?"
"Shut up, woman! Sit your fat ass down in that chair!" her husband insisted, but she didn't waver.
"I will not, Seamus Hennessey. I am going to my son, and I am bringing him home, and if you don't approve, you'd better be out of this house when I come back."
"This is my house, you stupid bitch."
"You forget it was placed in my mother's name when you went through that lawsuit due to your drunk-driving accident. It's my mother's house, frankly, and I think she'd rather have me living here with my son than with you."
"And who is going to pay the mortgage?"
"You are, Seamus. One way or another."
Justin and Brian watched the stand-off, and then Brian said, "I have a two-seater, so I can't drive you to New York. But I can drive you to the airport and buy you a ticket. Go get packed."
As she went past her husband, he grabbed her arm, yanking it tightly. Justin felt Brian tense, as if to get up, but Mary Hennessey pulled free of her husband and walked upstairs to pack.
"You're busting up my family, you fucking faggot!"
Brian smiled at the man. "I'm putting your family back together, if you choose to bust out, that's your call. Either way, I don't give a shit about you. I only want Shea to get the care he deserves."
"You interfering queer!"
Brian ignored him, turning to Justin as he said, "You'll have to ride in the boot behind the seats to the B and B. I'll drop you off and take care of Shea's mom."
"I'll be fine, don't worry about it, Brian."
Brian glanced at Hennessey, then deliberately leaned over and pressed his lips to Justin's in an affectionate caress. Justin sighed and separated his lips beneath Brian's as he slung an arm around his neck. The older man cursed, turning away and leaving them alone as he stormed up the stairs. Justin leaned back and said,
"What if he starts whaling on her?"
"How do you know?"
"I know him, Justin. I grew up with him. His type is brave only as long as he knows he has the edge. Once I was as tall as he was, and able to flatten him, my old man never touched me or my mother again. Bullies are cowards by definition. Hennessey is afraid of me. He won't try anything while we're here, and maybe he'll turn human while she's gone."
"Or not," Justin said with a sigh. "Poor Shea. He'll be stuck here. What if his father remains abusive?"
"Once he's back, I think his old man will come around. Even if he never accepts him, he won't abuse him."
"How do you know?"
"I told you, I know him. Shea's the wounded now, vulnerable, helpless. The war is over. His old man will wait him out and after he dies, Hennessey will go on a bender and cry in his beer about how hard the world is to take a man's son before the man himself. And if someone makes a crack about the kid being gay or dying of AIDS, Hennessey will take him out. That's the way it works in a clan. It's an Irish thing. You wouldn't understand."
Justin smiled and patted Brian's hand. "I'm learning. Living with an Irishman has been an education."
"In a positive and life-affirming way?" Brian teased and Justin laughed and leaned over to kiss him again.
"Of course." Suddenly he wanted to be back in New York City, to their life together, as fractured as it was. Away from small town prejudices and their claustrophobic view of what was "normal". "Let's go home early tomorrow," Justin said softly and Brian smiled.
"I think I am."
"Me too," Brian agreed, realizing his own life, for all the gaping wounds recently inflicted, was still better than anything Shea would be facing.
|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