Despite his reduced financial circumstances, Brian arranged for a car to pick up Mary Hennessey at La Guardia. He then put her up in a nice, if modest, hotel near the Youth Center. He couldn't picture her at his loft, even if the construction hadn't made it impossible. He and Justin took turns driving, not stopping for anything other than fuel until they reached Pittsburgh. Once there, they went to the diner, and as Brian talked quietly to Michael, who met them there, Justin borrowed the car. He explained he wanted to say hello to Daphne, whom he missed on the first trip.
"You really put yourself out for this Shea kid, Brian," Michael was observing, and Brian shrugged.
"Someone has to. Justin's been just as big a supporter of Shea as I have. I couldn't do it without his support. It would've been impossible. Look, I'm just trying to get his fucking family to step in and act halfway human with him. He deserves that much."
"But Brian, you know you can't MAKE a family be what you want them to be, or what they should be. Look at your own family."
Brian winced. "Yeah, I do know that, Mikey. But Shea is dying. It's not about hurt feelings and old abuses. It's about insurance, and having a roof over your head, and having someone to hold your hand at the end. His mother seems like a decent enough person. And his father needs to be responsible for his kid's care. Like it or not. I can't afford to do it, Mikey. I just don't have the scratch. And when things get bad, the Center can't keep Shea. Where will he go? I have no room anymore. It's a cluster fuck. I'm just doing what I can to give him the maximum shot."
"What makes you think he'll even go back with her?"
"What choice does he have, really?"
Michael shook his head. "It makes me grateful for how well Ben is doing."
"And for the fact my promiscuous best friend is negative."
"Like you were never exposed yourself."
"True. We're both lucky."
"No, Mikey, we were both smart…as well as lucky."
"Careful if not smart."
"Yeah. Where is Justin?" Brian glanced impatiently at his watch. "We need to head back. We still have four hours on the road." He flipped open his phone and dialed Daphne's number when Justin failed to answer his own mobile. He identified himself, and asked to speak to Justin. She seemed perplexed.
"I haven't seen him, Brian. Is he in Pittsburgh?"
Brian frowned. "Uh, yeah. We both are. I'm at the diner. We're supposed to be on the road by now."
"Sorry, I haven't seen him. But if I do, I'll tell him."
Brian was playing various disaster scenarios in his mind as he ended the call. Everything from a car accident to a reunion with Brian's former rival tweaked his insecurities, and then, "Daddy!" He looked over as Gus ran up to the booth and climbed in beside his father, flinging his arms around his neck. Brian hugged him back, then allowed him to cop a cold French fry from his plate and munch happily on it as Justin strolled over and slid in beside Michael. His cat-who-ate-the-canary grin caused Brian to suppress a smile.
"You know what, Patty Hearst. Did you kidnap him?"
Justin laughed. "Yes, it was the Lindbergh baby scene all over again. Except this time, the criminal didn't drop him and kill him on the way out. Should he be eating all that?"
Brian looked over at his son who was smeared with ketchup. He cursed and motioned for the waitress to take away the plate, using his napkin as well as Michael's to clean up his kid. He ordered a glass of chocolate milk for him, and Gus seemed content with it, as interested in the straw as he was in the milk. "I hope he doesn't hurl in your car. By the way, you'll have to drive the rest of the way alone. The car seat won't fit in the boot, and it's dangerous to put it in the front, so I'm flying back on the red eye with Gus. We should be at the loft roughly when you get there."
"Justin, what the fuck?"
"Language," Justin cautioned him, then shrugged. "Remember when you told me to butt out and I didn't know what was best for anyone, supposedly because I am too YOUNG to know what's up?"
Brian sighed, recalling that fight. "So?"
"I guess I'm not a total idiot, after all. I guess Debbie's little visit did some good, as did yours, believe it or not. Melanie wants Gus to stay with Lindsay while they work out the custody issues. She still wants visitation rights, but she believes he will be happier with his birth mother and she doesn't want to punish him. By the way, she and her new partner are discussing adopting a baby girl from China."
"And you found all this out exactly when?"
"She called me while you were driving Shea's Mom to the airport in Burlington."
"And you never said a word?"
Justin shrugged. "I had some fear she would change her mind. She's so volatile."
Brian smiled slightly. "You're so Machiavellian."
"And this is a surprise to anyone? I got you, didn't I? This was easy compared to that."
"No shit," Michael agreed glumly, as Brian leaned across the
table and kissed his lover gently while Gus giggled at their affection.
Mick stood in the open doorway of her apartment, glowering at Brian. She was dressed in men's boxers and an oversized t-shirt. He found himself noticing her legs were not half-bad. She noticed he was in need of both a shave and a shower.
"Kinney, your out-of- control behavior has just used up your last chit with me. Do you know what time it is? Are you tweaked?"
"Only on exhaustion and road fumes. There's someone here who wants to see Lindsay."
"Well they can come back when normal people are up, bucko."
"He's not the patient type." Brian waved Justin out of semi-hiding to the left of the door. Gus, dressed in pajamas decorated with bright red fire engines, was sleeping peacefully against Justin's shoulder. Mick's eyes grew wide and she pressed a hand to her lips. Tears formed, and Brian realized it was the first time he had ever seen her phenomenal control crack. He beamed at her, thrilled to have found her vulnerability. "Now can I come in?"
She could only nod, stepping aside for them all to enter. Brian paused to pick up Gus's things before doing so. "I would have kept him at my place for what's left of the night, but it's chaotic over there, and there's no room. Besides, with the construction underway, it's not safe."
"Sit down," Mick had reclaimed her composure. "I'll be right back."
Brian took the sleeping baby from Justin without waking him, holding him in his arms and smiling down at him, feeling as if a large part of his stress had just been jettisoned. Justin watched them and restrained a grin. His work was done. Lindsay accompanied Mick back into the room, looking disheveled and disoriented, tying on a robe as she walked. She glanced at Justin and then the back of Brian's head. "Is something wrong?" she asked, and Justin grinned at her.
"No, something is right. Brian and Justin brought you a souvenir from the Pitts."
Brian stood and walked over to her, watching her face reflect stunned disbelief and then collapse into relief and joy as she rushed over to him and grabbed Gus from his arms. She hugged the baby against her body, causing him to stir, grab a handful of her golden hair and mumble "Mommy" before drifting back to sleep. She was crying, Mick was crying and Brian was biting back his emotions. Justin was just enjoying the moment with every fiber of his being.
"How?" she asked and Brian shrugged.
"It's a long story, and there are a lot of people to thank, not the least of whom is Justin. But it's late and we're all dead, so let's get together tomorrow and talk about it, okay? I need to sack out."
She nodded and Brian leaned over to kiss Gus's cheek, then
touched his lips to Lindsay's, meeting her eyes with a smile. Mick walked them
out, and they slipped into the cab they had paid to wait for them. Brian rested
his head against Justin's shoulder, too exhausted to say anything more about
it. Justin smiled and rested his cheek against the top of Brian's head, sharing
in his quiet fatigue.
Lindsay looked ten years younger when she breezed into the café where she had agreed to meet Brian for a late lunch. He felt as if he had picked up those ten years plus a few more, he was so tired. He met her greeting kiss with little enthusiasm, and then asked, "How did Gus do in yet another new environment?"
"He was perfect!" She gushed. "He slept soundly and this morning he COMMANDED Mick to make him her special banana pancakes. He loves those. I took the day off to spend with him, but Gail is watching him while we have lunch. Brian, can I say again how incredibly grateful…"
He held up his hand to stop her. "No. I'm telling you this was orchestrated by Justin with a boost from Debbie. Be incredibly grateful to them. Not to mention Melanie, who acted human, for once."
"I had my first good conversation with Melanie since all this trouble started. I think we're on track to work out a more conventional visitation schedule that will cause him the least disruption. And she seems to be eagerly pursuing the idea of adopting a baby from China, even though the process could take some time. Her new…girlfriend…has connections there that may speed things along."
"How do you feel about that?"
"Mel adopting a baby? I think it's wonderful."
"About her new girlfriend?"
"A little jealous, oddly enough. I know I have no claims, but Mel and I were together a long time. I can't say I feel nothing when I think of someone else sleeping in my bed. But that's just petty. I have Mick, and I adore her."
"No lingering doubts?"
"I'll always have some doubts, Brian, some thoughts of what might have been. But with Gus back, I've never been happier. I love Mick, love my job, love this city. I just wish I could make things better for you."
He shrugged. "My shit will work out. It always does. I have Justin to get me through it."
"I'm so pleased to hear you say that. You two are just so right together."
He winced. "Enough. Have you thought anymore about whether you'll have this baby you're hatching?"
"Is this the right time to have this discussion?"
"I think so. If you're ready."
"Brian, I can't go the abortion route. I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry? I didn't ask you to have an abortion."
"I know, but it would be so much easier for you if I did."
"Why do you think that?"
"One less responsibility. Even though I'm telling you that you have no responsibility for this child, we both know you. You were to have no responsibility for Gus, and look at the two of you. Mutual adoration. With all you have going on…"
He reached over and grabbed her hand to shut her up. "I'm okay with this, Lindsay. It's more about you, your job, your relationship with Mick, your time. If you think you can manage all of that, then so can I. My part is minor."
She heaved a sigh of relief. "I saw a doctor yesterday. She says I'm in excellent health and there's no reason to think this won't be a smooth pregnancy and delivery."
"Did you tell Melanie?"
"Not yet. The timing was wrong."
"If the baby is a girl, I want to name her Brianna. If the baby is a boy, Brian Aidan Kinney Jr."
He shook his head. "No junior. Give the kid a shot at his own identity."
"I'll call him Aidan."
"Then name him Aidan, but no junior."
"How about Michael Aidan? For your best friend, and sort of for Mick too."
He looked up at her and said, "How about Justin Aidan?"
She smiled. "You are so in love with him."
"Shut the fuck up. I just like the name."
They were both quiet, and then they both laughed. "I can't believe you got knocked up from one fuck," he said, shaking his head at his own luck. Lindsay shrugged.
"It's exactly like they warned us in junior high. It only takes once."
He nodded. "Irish luck. Are you going to keep working?"
"Of course I am, Brian. I feel fine and I plan to work up until delivery. I'll take off a few weeks when the baby's born, but I guess I'll have to break down and get a nanny to watch Gus when he's not in playschool, and to mind the baby while I work. I was opposed to it, having been raised by nannies myself, but I love what I do, and I think I'm a happier, more well-rounded person when I'm working, than when I stay home. Besides, I need the income and I want my own insurance."
He looked up at her and smirked. "You're about to be really well-rounded if your pregnancy with Gus is any omen."
She grimaced. "I plan to watch my weight very carefully this time. I don't want that post-baby weight loss struggle again."
"Christ, two kids. Three, counting Justin."
"Honey, you're as much Justin's kid as he is yours."
Brian smiled. "You got me there. I have to go, Linds. Thanks for the lunch. I'm doing my last good deed of the decade, by re-introducing another son to his estranged mother. At least this kid isn't mine."
He bussed her cheek as he got up from the table and she watched
him leave, well aware that his "last good deed" was anything but that.
Shea wondered at Brian's awkward demeanor and uncommon inability to say what he wanted to get said. Finally, Shea interrupted.
"Are you telling me you and Justin are blowing me off? Because I expected this. Why would you want to hang with some guy who's always sick and complaining and isn't long for the world anyway?"
Brian rolled his eyes. "It's not like that, drama princess. But this is how it is. There are some very important people who would like to hurt me, to shut me up right now. Anyone close to me is under risk of being used as a tool to get to me. That includes you. On top of that threat, you have increasing medical bills that I can't afford to pay and that once the state steps in to pay those bills, it will result in your being put back into the foster care syndrome. You need insurance and you need a safe place to stay. So…"
"So what?" he asked suspiciously, and Brian sighed.
"So your mom is here, Shea. She wants to take you home."
"And how would my mom get to New York City and know where to find me, Brian?"
"Because Justin and I went to Keokuk to talk to your parents about your situation."
"You had no right!"
"I realize that, Shea. And to the extent we invaded your privacy, I'm sorry. But the greater good was to take care of you for the long haul, and this isn't where you need to be. You can't live here indefinitely, I have no room at the loft, not with all that construction, and you need medical care."
"You think my parents will care about me? You think they give a shit if I live or die? You're fucking crazy!"
Brian put his hand on Shea's arm to calm him down, but the kid pulled free. Brian sighed. "Your old man is being an asshole about it, but your mom wants to help. She came all this way to be with you and take you home."
"Home to live in that house with my old man? I don't think so. I left there when I was a kid. I won't go back."
"Yes, you will."
"Fuck you! You can't make me! You don't rule the universe, Brian, and everyone doesn't have to jump to your tune! I hate them! I hate that town! I won't go back!"
"Where will you go instead, Shea?" Brian asked gently. "Live on the streets? You can't sell your ass anymore, not the way you look. And you won't last more than a few weeks without your meds. You want to end it that way? Why not walk off the top of the Empire State Building if you want to commit suicide? It's faster."
"The fences are too high. I tried it once," Shea said dully.
"Shea, you have to go home. I'm sorry. I know it's not optimal, and if it turns out to be more than you can stand, let me know, and I'll try to find another alternative. But for now, it's the only game in town."
Shea sighed and shook his head in defeat, staring down at his pale, bony hands. "You just don't know what it's like to be in a house where they hate you just because of the way you are. I didn't ask to be gay. I didn't want to be gay. But I am. And they hate me for it. And now they'll be telling me I deserve to have AIDS, because all faggots should have AIDS. All faggots should die."
Brian reached out and covered Shea's hands with his own. "My old man told me that when I came out to him shortly before he died of cancer. He said I should be the one dying, not him. I almost punched him. But I drew back, thinking I'm not sinking to his level. Later, he made a gesture towards me that wasn't exactly an apology, but it was his pathetic attempt to make amends. I think about that gesture often. Your mom loves you, Shea. Give her a chance. As for your old man, fuck him. If he comes around, he comes around. If not, its his problem, not yours. He's the one who has to live with his hatred, not you. There's nothing wrong with the way you are, and you got AIDS because you were young and stupid and careless, not as a punishment for being gay. I believe your mom will control the situation. If I'm wrong, call me."
"Why? What the fuck would you do?"
Brian sighed. "I don't know, Shea, but I'd think of something."
"Bullshit. You won't ever speak to me again if I left here. You'll just write me off."
"That's not true. Neither Justin nor I would do that. We're still your friends. We're trying to help in the only way we know."
"Right. Get the sick kid out of the way. I can dig it."
Brian shook his head. "Hate on me if you want, Shea, but I really am doing this because I care what happens to you and I want to give you the best chance to survive."
"Your Mom is downstairs in Frankie's office. I'm going to go get her, okay?"
Shea shrugged and Brian paused at the door when he called out to him. "Brian, thanks for everything you've done up until now."
Brian just shook his head and left him there as he went downstairs to escort Mary Hennessey. She seemed nervous, but determined to show her son a welcoming face, not a tragic mask, when they were reunited. "I'll just leave you alone with him to talk," Brian said as they knocked on his door. "But I'll be downstairs if you need me."
She nodded. When Shea didn't answer, Brian opened the door, and they both saw that the room was empty. He checked the bathroom. Nothing. He opened the closet. Shea's meager wardrobe was missing, as was his backpack. "He ran," Brian said with a frown as Shea's mother gasped.
"Where would he go?"
"I don't know, but we need to find him fast."
She began to cry as Brian wondered at his own blundering clumsiness
in handling the situation. He flipped open his mobile and called Mick. If anyone
had a clue where to start, he figured it would be Mick, or someone she knew.
Seated in the debris of the main rooms of the loft, surrounded by work and construction, Brian felt empty. Justin sat beside him while Cynthia packed up a presentation case to go home. It was late evening and there had been no word from Shea.
"I'll meet you at Edmond's tomorrow at eleven, Brian," she paused to remind him. "I'm taking the boards with me so you won't have to screw with them." In his present state of mind, she feared Brian might forget the boards. "I left the deck with the high points of the pitch on the counter in the kitchen. Give it a final scan before the meeting, okay?"
She met Justin's eyes and he gave her a reassuring glance as she left them alone. The phone rang. Justin picked it up, feeling as hopeful as Brian was that it was Shea. He was disappointed. "May I ask who's calling?" he said when he heard an unfamiliar male voice. "Hold on." He looked over at Brian. "It's someone named Mark."
Brian frowned, then recalled his peer from a rival agency, the man he lunched with and wanted to lure away from his agency one day. He took the receiver from Justin. "Hi, Mark."
"Brian. Do you have a minute?"
"I have nothing but time."
"Are you still litigating with Vanguard?"
"I want to offer to testify."
"What do you mean?"
"Just that. About how my boss was told not to hire you. About a meeting I sat through after you and I had lunch the other day. My boss told me not to be seen with you because you were a pariah and could cost us business if any major clients found out about it. It was so over the top, I wondered what was going on. I asked him. He said Boston International has put the word out on you, and Felix was just following orders, doing what was best for the agency. He said he heard that not from Felix, but from his secretary, who is a good friend of Felix's assistant. He said BI is so powerful and the family is so wealthy and in so many pockets, that we can't risk pissing them off. For instance, one of our big accounts is MOMA and Walker is on their board."
"So why is any of that inspiring you to testify?"
"It isn't. It scares me, frankly."
"Then what is?"
"Yes, also known as Jiminy Cricket. We were discussing your situation, and she read me out. She asked me if the fact you were gay played into it. I said probably, that the whole thing between you and Jeffrey Walker Jr. set it in motion. That you really don't have the same champions in a firm as do the power brokers: the straight white guys. She asked me if I would feel any differently about it if you were African American, and that was what distinguished you from the others. If the younger Walker was female and Walker Sr. just didn't like his daughter sleeping with a black man. I said I could better identify with that. She said, ‘prejudice is prejudice. You either fight it, when you see it, or you're part of it'."
Brian exhaled slowly. "That's a woman."
Mark laughed. "Oh yeah, that's a woman, alright. So, I want to testify. I'll tell my boss, of course. I suspect he won't like it much, but he won't fire me. He doesn't have the balls. So what do I do?"
"Let me talk to my lawyer. Don't tell your boss anything right now, Mark. If we settle this, why compromise yourself? But Mick, my attorney, may give you a call. Listen, man, I really appreciate your courage."
"Belated courage. So when are we getting together for that dinner? The wife wants to meet you."
"I'll call you with the details. Take care, Brian. Hang in."
"Thanks, Mark." He hung up, then turned to Justin and explained the call. Justin smiled.
"For such a bastard, you sure have a lot of friends."
"I'm lucky. Sunshine, let's go out. Let's go to a club and dance and drink a little too much and come home and fuck ourselves out. I really want to get out of here."
"You have that pitch in the morning."
"I'm Brian Kinney. Ever met me? Staying out late has never interfered with my job."
Justin laughed, unable to argue with that truth.
The next day, Brian felt energized by his meeting with Edmond. The pitch had gone well, Edmond was thrilled with the ad campaign, and Cynthia was smart enough to have an invoice prepared and in her briefcase. Edmond insisted on writing them a check, without putting too fine a point on his awareness of their financial situation. Five figures would go a long way right now, for their fledgling enterprise. It would fund Cynthia's survival for awhile, and give them some cushion for expenses.
The day was beautiful, sunny and mild. Loosening his tie, Brian suggested they cut across the park and have a celebratory lunch from a hot dog cart while sitting on a bench in Central Park. She agreed, sharing his excitement. They were an attractive, if false, couple as they walked along and relived the high points of the pitch. As they sat on a bench overlooking the wide path crowded with joggers and strollers, Brian said, "What date is this?"
"The twentieth, why?"
"Jeffrey's trial is the twenty-eighth. Jesus. I have another long session with Jim Jacobi tomorrow. It's really going to happen."
She reached over and patted his arm gently, trying to read his expression behind his dark glasses, but failing in her attempt. "It'll be fine, Brian. And then it'll be over."
"It'll never be over," he said softly.
"Guess who called yesterday? I didn't have a chance to tell you." She deliberately changed the subject.
"The guys who make that sport drink?"
"Yes, they want to talk. They said they were your client at Vanguard and that they are not under contract to them and they miss your slant on things. I think it's great that they tracked you down, Brian. It's a big account. I set up a meeting for next Wednesday at their offices."
"I know. Mixed media, national market, big bucks."
"We need to start thinking about what we would do with them. Come on, let's head back. We can get a cab at the street."
They started walking towards Park Avenue when a jogger approached. The runner zigzagged as if to avoid them, but collided briefly with Brian. Cynthia looked back, wondering at the source of an unfamiliar noise. Brian grunted from the impact, held in a momentary embrace by the man who ran into him. Then the jogger released him and ran on. She noticed Brian was still stopped. She looked curiously at him. He looked back at her. His expression one of utter surprise. The presentation case slipped from his hand and crashed to the ground.
"Brian?" She said with a hint of concern, and then she saw that he was pressing his hand to his abdomen, just above his belt. Blood began to flow between his fingers and down his cuff. A red stain spread out on his white shirt. "Brian!" She cried out, running over to him just as he collapsed on the path, the crimson flow spilling beyond his body to pool on the ground around him.
|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