The Phantom speaks: This must be the right trailer! The music of Crystal Method to provide the mood, the neat as a pin interior, the rush of a shower running. I wait, the bathroom door opens..EEEEEKKKKK! We both scream! Michelle wraps a towel around her fine body but it doesn't matter, my eyes have glazed over at all that female pulchritude. "You really need to get a map!" She snaps at me and I apologize profusely. "What are you going to do with Gale when you finally find him?" She wants to know. "He's straight, for chrissakes." Women are so na´ve. "I just want to tell him how much I appreciate his work." She smirks at me. "Write him a letter. It's easier on the nails." From that moment on, we are girls together talking about how hard it is to maintain fingernails. I leave on a high note. "Be careful of his alarm system!" She warns me as I go.
Last week on Transitions: Brian has a low moment when he sees Justin and Ethan at Deb's house together with all his friends. He seeks solace from Cynthia. Ethan and Justin fight about Brian again and Justin leaves and calls Brian from a pay phone. Brian tells him to go home and work it out. Brian and Trevor have lunch and Trevor agrees to go on a business retreat with Brian and his team. Michael and Justin agree to continue the Rage comic.
Scene 1: Ethan's apartment-early morning.
It was early Saturday morning, but Justin was awake and out of bed. He had heard nothing from Brian for two days. Ethan's visit to his office seemed to do the trick. A week had passed since the Rage party that ended their relationship. Justin knew he should be celebrating his newlywed status with Ethan, not pining over a lost lover. He sat on the window ledge, watching the street begin to awake with activity. A dozen small red roses, a gift from Ethan, stood in an empty Evian bottle beside him on the ledge. The flowers had no perfume, a fact Justin noticed when he sniffed them the moment Ethan handed them to him. He remembered finding that strange. He didn't know how man had discovered a way to wring the scent out of a rose, much less why. A derelict sold these roses from a big bucket, wrapping a dozen in newspaper for seven bucks. Justin saw him on the same corner every day on his way home from the Art Institute. But it was the thought that mattered, and Justin had been touched by the gesture.
If Brian ever bothered to. No. He had to stop thinking that way. He had found what he wanted in Ethan. A man who wanted only him. A man who was jealous and possessive. A man who gave him flowers. Justin had to let go of the past. A black jeep come into view on the street and parked at the curb in front of their building. Justin watched in wonder as Brian got out of the car. Another man was in the jeep with him. It was not Michael. Justin couldn't see who it was, but his hair was blond. This early? Brian didn't take tricks home after the fun. They were left on their own to find their way home. Who could he be and why was Brian stopping here? Justin wasn't surprised that Brian knew where he was living. Brian seldom let details like that slip past him, and he had an amazing ability to find information he needed or wanted.
In sweat pants and a t-shirt, barefoot, chilled, Justin ran down four flights of stairs to confront Brian before he could come up and rouse Ethan. The last thing he wanted was a scene. But by the time he reached the ground floor, Brian and the Jeep, were gone. The only evidence that he had been there was a brown paper package on the table by the mailboxes where magazines and packages were deposited for the tenants. Justin picked it up, recognizing Brian's handwriting. He had written only "Justin Taylor" on the outside of the package. Justin opened it to reveal a brief note and a Michael Feinstein CD. The note read:
"J.- -Maybe you forgot to pack this one. Listen to track 11.- - B."
Justin turned the jewel box over in his hand. The CD still had the wrapper on it. Obviously, Brian bought it for him and left it there with a purpose. Feinstein's soulful ballads were certainly not Brian's choice of music. Justin took it upstairs and put it on the stereo, using his headphones to avoid disturbing Ethan. He skipped tracks to number eleven, and Feinstein's fine voice began to sing the Jerry Herman ballad, "I Won't Send Roses":
"I won't send roses, or hold the door.
Justin hit pause. His emotions swelled as he realized Brian's purpose in giving him this song. He was trying to tell him goodbye and explain why it would never have worked between them, using another man's voice to say what he could never have said himself. Justin forced himself to be calm, as he restarted the ballad:
"Forget my shoulder, when you're in need.
Justin paused it again, blinking back tears as he walked over to the window ledge, his fingertips brushing the velvety petals of the flowers. Finally, he was able to resume the play.
"My days are frantic.
Justin switched it off, his heart pounding as he realized how close to the bone those lyrics hit. Where did Brian hear it? How hard was it for him to listen to it? To buy it? To drop it off for him? The irony of receiving it within such close proximity to Ethan's giving Justin the roses was not lost on Justin. He knew he was supposed to feel self-satisfied that he had done the right thing in leaving. That was Brian's intent. But he felt something far different than what was intended. He picked up the portable phone and carried it out into the hall, sitting down on the first stair as he punched in the number of Brian's loft. Voice mail. He tried his mobile and got the same response. He tried again and failed.
Giving up, he walked back into the apartment. Ethan ambushed him as soon as the door closed, grabbing the front of Justin's shirt and slamming him up against the wall.
"It's me, Ethan!" Justin presumed Ethan was still half asleep and suspected he was a prowler.
"I know who you are!" Ethan seethed. He shoved him again, even more roughly than before. The impact of the wall knocked the wind out of Justin. He felt a flash of fear. "What the fuck are you doing?" Ethan demanded. "Talking to him in the hall so I won't overhear?"
"I wasn't, I." Justin was heaving for air.
Ethan grabbed the phone out of Justin's hand and pressed redial. Brian's mobile rang, and this time he answered it.
Ethan hung up, then smacked Justin on the side of the head with the receiver, landing close to the scar that remained from the bashing. The blow was hard enough to sting, but not to leave a bump or a mark. What Justin heard was the crack of a bat, not the rap of the phone. He felt the terror of Hobbes attack, the threat of death, the inability to defend himself. All of these somatic memories were freed by his body, where the pain and fear had been stored. He broke free of Ethan and withdrew to the shelter of a chair. He pulled his knees up under his chin, clutched his shins with both arms and rocked back and forth slowly as terror gripped him. Ethan stared down at the glaze of fear in Justin's eyes and said, "What is it you don't understand about not calling Brian again? Why do you do this? Why do you make me so angry that I lose my cool with you?" He knelt before Justin, placing his hand on his knee, ignoring his flinch.
"If I didn't love you so much, I wouldn't care. I'd be cold and remote, like Kinney. But I do love you and I won't share you with him or anyone else. Isn't that what you want? Isn't that why you left him in the first place? Because he never really gave a shit what you did or with whom you did it?"
Justin leaned his forehead on his knees, trying to become invisible. Ethan ruffled his fingers through Justin's blond hair, feeling him flinch at his touch. "Don't be like that, baby. You know I love you. I just hate the fact you have any feelings at all for that manipulative motherfucker. I'm the one who cares, who tells you I care, and who shows you I care. He never did, remember?"
He began to massage Justin's tense neck muscles. "Come back to bed, baby. Let me show you how much I love you."
"I don't want to," Justin mumbled, his head beginning to ache.
"Sure you do," Ethan was forcing him to his feet. "Show me that I'm the one you want."
Ethan took Justin's hand, leading him towards the bed. Justin followed, too shocked and too numb to protest. His head was pounding. When Ethan touched him, he closed his eyes and remembered the lyrics from the song. "And should I love you, you would be the last to know." Justin moaned softly, not out of pleasure brought by Ethan's touch, but from a helpless sense of inevitability.
Scene 2: Brian's Jeep, same morning.
After dropping off the CD at Justin's place, Brian felt strangely pleased with himself. He believed the song told of his shortcomings better than he ever could. He hoped it would give Justin some peace with his decision. He had convinced himself he wasn't accustomed to doing selfless acts, but this one came pretty close. He felt Trevor watching him as he drove.
"What was that all about? Did they hang up on you?" Trevor asked after Ethan called the phone, and Brian shrugged.
"Yeah. Must have been a wrong number."
"And that little stop we made? What was that?"
"Just dropping something off for a friend."
"Well, I'll be gone a few days."
They were on their way to the resort where the retreat was being staged. Brian volunteered to drive. Trevor brought his Golden Retriever with him and the dog napped in the backseat, as docile as a plush toy. Brian felt vulnerable to the dog's sweet face and soothing, loving manner. Maybe he needed a pet to fill the loneliness at the loft since Justin left. He quickly nixed that idea, knowing how bad he would be at having someone totally dependent on him for survival. No dog deserved that fate.
"Brian, there's a rumor in the gay community that you're in a relationship. Any truth to it?"
"No," he said simply and Trevor nodded.
"I didn't think so. You're not the type to commit."
Brian let that one roll off of him. He owed Trevor no insight into his private feelings. "Are you in a relationship, Trevor?" He countered. Trevor shrugged.
"I was in a relationship for several years before coming here. He didn't want to move to the US, so we ended it."
"The job wins out?"
"There were problems that went beyond the job. It just happened to coincide with a move. A reasonable excuse."
"Nothing since coming to Pittsburgh?"
"I've dated. Some have lasted a couple months, but nothing stuck. Too bad, really. I'm much happier in a monogamous relationship. Something you could never understand."
"What are you so afraid of, Brian? Why do you avoid it so adamantly?"
Brian smiled slightly. "So, have you had Sam since he was a puppy?"
Trevor glared at him. "Are you so ridiculous that you can't even discuss the concept of relationships? Your inability to commit is a real problem for me, Brian. I like to surround myself with people I consider emotionally mature and stable. They perform much better under pressure. If your private life is a mess and a joke, why should I expect anything tidier from your business life? It's a very big concern to me."
"You don't know anything about my private life!" Brian snapped. "The fact that we fucked once doesn't give you any insight into me. You're playing that straight game where all your top executives should be married and daddies and living the suburban dream in order to be productive. It's all bullshit! You have any idea what fresh hell goes on in those ivy covered suburban cottages? As a gay man, you'll extend the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, so long as they fit your definition of stability. I know a lot of so-called `couples', straight and gay, who are a hell of a lot more dysfunctional than I'll ever be!"
"Why do I question that?"
"For the record, I have a kid. I'm a dad."
"Yes, I've heard that, as well. He lives with his mother and her gay lover. What's your role, Brian?"
"I support him. I pay for his school. I visit him and care about him."
"Why do you make that sound like a condemnation?"
"Absentee dads are a dime a dozen."
"Who the hell are you to judge my relationship with my son? You don't know a god damned thing about it! I guess nothing I say about my life will satisfy you."
"Not so long as you lie to me."
Brian glanced at him, then back at the road. "What do you mean?"
"I mean Justin Taylor, Brian. I know about him. Tell."
"I want your account, Trevor. But not in exchange for pounds of my flesh. It's none of your fucking business."
"It is my business when you see fit to lie about it."
"When did I lie?"
"When you said you weren't in a relationship." Trevor's exasperation showed.
Brian entered the highway, leaving the city behind as he said, "That wasn't a lie. I'm not. We're not.together.it's not a relationship..it's over." He felt that anvil come back to compress his chest and he winced, forcing his attention to the road. Trevor studied his handsome profile, and then sighed.
"Have I stepped in it?"
Brian said nothing, lighting a cigarette, and lowering his window slightly to vent the smoke. Trevor could see the pain that tightened his features and he felt embarrassed. "Brian, I."
"I have feelings, Trevor. I'm not a sex machine, or a robot or something. Drop it."
"Of course you do. Forgive me for prying into a painful subject. I didn't know. My information must be faulty. I understood it was a current relationship."
"It ended recently."
"Seven days and about five hours."
"Bloody hell! You made your pitch to me right after it happened?"
"I had the weekend."
"That explains a lot."
"I don't let my private life interfere with work."
Brian glanced at him. "What do you mean?"
"No one is a superman except Superman, Brian. None of us can leave that big an upset at the door. I know I couldn't when it happened to me, even though I believed it was for the best. I was a mess for weeks."
"I'm not you. I can roll with it."
"That was his place where we stopped by on the way out of town, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I had to leave a CD for him. There was a song on it that explained my shortcomings a lot better than I ever could. I wanted him to know he made the right decision to leave."
"Because." he hesitated. "Because I want him to move on without any regrets."
"Frankly, Trevor, it's more difficult than I thought it would be, but I'll survive."
"Of course you will. I'd like to be a friend to you if I may, Brian. I know you have friends here, but sometimes it's nice to know someone not quite so close, with no written history."
"Thanks, but I'm fine. Can we change the subject?"
"Of course. Tell me more about this resort." Trevor listened to Brian talk. The tightness in Brian's gut unclenched slowly, reflected in the relaxation of his face and even in the tone of his voice. But Brian was in misery, Trevor realized. He knew that for men who never fell in love, falling in love was the most terrifying experiment. When it went bad, they often never recovered, unable to cobble their protective shells back in place to protect themselves from the pain. His distrust of Brian was slowly being replaced by something else, by an empathy that began to change their dynamics in a subtle but meaningful way.
Scene 3, Liberty Diner. Noon.
Daphne reached over and tapped Justin on the forehead. He flinched, causing her to giggle at his reaction."Are you in a coma again? You were more communicative when you were comatose than you are now."
"Sorry. Headache." He pressed the knuckles of his index fingers against his closed eye sockets. Daphne frowned. She knew that stress was the most common cause of his headaches since the bashing.
"What happened?" She knew it was significant and presumed it concerned Brian. It always concerned Brian. "What did he do?"
"He?" Justin squinted at her. "Who?"
"Brian, who else?"
"Why is it always Brian? Why does everyone have to think the worst about Brian? I'm sick of apologizing for Brian! I'm sick of defending Brian! I exist outside of Brian, okay?" He was so loud that heads turned to stare. Daphne sighed and reached over to pat his hand. He pulled free and stormed out of the diner. The bright sunlight hit him like a saber. He cringed and grabbed onto the street lamp to steady himself as he puked into the gutter. Daphne ran up to him. She slipped an arm around his waist, recognizing the symptoms of a migraine. He hadn't suffered a migraine since shortly after being released from the hospital following the Hobbes incident.
She put her own sunglasses over his eyes to protect them from the glare and helped him to her car. He drew up in a modified fetus position, trying desperately to divorce himself from all outside stimulation. Any interference was excruciating, he just needed a dark room where he could be perfectly still and wait for the agony to pass.
Scene 4, Salt Spring Resort, indoor tennis courts.
"You're making me crazy, Brian," Cynthia complained between heaving for breath on the indoor clay tennis court. "Have you ever heard of letting the client win?"
Brian, looking impossibly buff and composed in his tennis whites, twirled his racquet on his palm as he replied, "I don't play the game that way. I play to win. If he can't beat me, fuck him. You need to move your ass and guard the forward game. Were you bullshitting me when you said you were a champion player?"
"I told you it was in HIGH SCHOOL, Brian! I'm your age! Do you know how long ago that was?"
He winced. "Don't remind me."
"Ready," Trevor called from the opposite side of the net. He had to replace his racquet when two strings snapped. His partner was a young, well built marketing manager in his company. He was obviously angry that a woman, Cynthia, was showing him up in front of his boss.
The match ended with Brian and Cynthia the clear victors. She limped off for a massage and steam at the spa, while the marketing manager was relegated to take a conference call. Brian and Trevor were packing their gear, when Trevor said, "You do have natural athletic skill, Brian. And that Girl Friday of yours is a ringer! Didn't she take Wimbledon one year?"
Brian laughed. "If she heard you call her my `Girl Friday', you'd need a couple tennis balls as prostheses when she was through with you. I found her game to be disappointing."
"I admire a fierce competitor, Brian."
"As do I."
Their eyes met and Trevor said, "How about we shower and change and meet for lunch in the conservatory?"
"Yeah, sure," Brian saw the tennis pro enter the court and begin lobbing some machine- launched balls across the net. He was tall, fit and handsome. When he saw Brian looking at him, his welcoming smile was unmistakeable. Brian turned back to Trevor, who watched the brief exchange with great interest. "Give me an extra, say twenty minutes. Maybe I'll work in a little lesson on my serve since the pro appears to be available."
"Your serve is sensational," Trevor said wryly, not commenting on the double meaning of the word "available". Brian shrugged.
"Can't get enough practice. I'll meet you there in forty-five minutes."
"You're incorrigible," Trevor said, shaking his head. He would leave Brian to his game. Brian picked up his racquet and approached the pro, placing a hand on his shoulder as he whispered something into his ear. The pro smiled and nodded. The last Trevor saw of them was a glimpse of the two men disappearing into the locker room area. Brian was amazing, he thought to himself. His heart may be broken, but he wasn't about to let that fact interfere with his dick. Trevor walked to his room, wondering why that little interlude between Brian and the pro left him feeling rejected.
Brian shoved the pro up against the white tiled wall in the shower room, warm water beating down on them as he fucked him with little care if anyone suddenly appeared in this abandoned area. It was the pro, not Brian, who was risking his job by this indiscrete action. Brian pulled him tightly against his body as his orgasm approached. He noticed the pro shot his own wad that was carried down the drain by the water seconds before Brian unloaded. He withdrew and tossed his condom in the trash, before standing under the water flow, allowing the other man to soap his body. Brian was considering a second go, when he realized his mobile phone was ringing in his bag.
Recognizing it as the prelude to a graceful exit, he rinsed off the last of the soap and was drying off as he fished the phone out and saw that the call came from Debbie's number. He considered hitting the code to call back, but decided against it. He had nothing good to say, so he was better off saying nothing. He dressed and combed through his wet hair, prepared to meet Trevor for lunch.
The pro watched him leave and sighed. So he didn't even warrant a goodbye from the cold, handsome motherfucker. He couldn't imagine being this guy's partner. As he moved the white towel against his ass and saw a slight smudge of blood caused by the size and width of Brian's cock, combined with his vigorous style of fucking, he rescinded that reservation, deciding Brian's lover was a very lucky guy, indeed.
Scene 5, The Novotny kitchen.continuous.
Debbie hung up the phone and smiled at her glowering brother. "No answer. Not at home, either. Must be shacked up somewhere. Guess he's not too blue."
"That's crap, sis. Did you see the look on his face? I felt as if we all hit him with a stick. And now, days later, not one of us has been able to contact him. Even Michael."
"He's being a drama queen, Vic. You're giving him too many points for sensitivity. This is BRIAN we're talking about."
"You are the Queen Mother to every faggot in Pittsburgh and you claim to love that kid, but you, like every other god damn adult in his life, treat him like absolute shit! You all think because he's beautiful and successful and wears this shiny armor around, he can't be wounded. News flash, Deb. He can be and we did. Bad. He was reeling from the Justin thing and we, his best friends and so-called family, delivered the K.O. punch."
She sat at the table and refilled his coffee mug and her own with what remained in the pot. "Honey, next to Michael, you are Brian's greatest defender. Always have been. Why do you think that is?"
"Why do YOU think that is, Deb?"
"I think you live vicariously through Brian. You used to be quite the stud yourself when you were his age, baby. I think you look at Brian and he's healthy and he's promiscuous and he's beautiful and you think, `you go, boy'! But it's yourself you're urging on. Your old self."
Vic shook his head slowly. "Strike one. Want to try again? I was nothing like Brian. I was hot, yes, and wild, but I was the Nellie bottom, to his studly top. We played opposite sides of the stairs in the backroom. And at my peak, I never had his power. I love Brian because he's someone who was dealt a bunch of shit early in his life, and he overcame it all on his own, and has made himself into something he can be proud of. Over the years, I've watched him rescue everyone of his friends, often without any credit, never seeking it, and your son was the recipient of that rescue service more than once. He protected him from bullies at school. Do you even know how big a deal that is? I do. He got him out there to meet people when Michael was so shy. He reinforced that Michael is cute and appealing and he never took advantage of Michael's feelings for him just to get himself a piece of ass. He's bailed out Lindsay and Melanie financially and even fixed up their relationship by giving up his own son to Mel. Who still treats Brian like shit, I might add."
Debbie sighed. "What else?"
"He freed Michael of his crush so Michael could go freely to David. It didn't work out, but not because of Brian. He arranged a job for Ted when he lost his, and he even let Ted BE Brian to fulfill a fantasy. That's a story you should hear some time. He's bailed Emmett out financially, and he's.he gave me a reason to live when I ran out of excuses. No sense in even listing all the things he did for Justin. Too numerous. And that, my dear sister, is why I love Brian Kinney."
"What do you mean, he gave you a reason to live? I know you sheltered Brian when he ran away to New York as a kid, but that was a favor to him. What did he do for you?"
"Everyone is entitled to some secrets, Deb. Even Brian and me."
"Not this one. Are you telling me you.and he.that you."
Vic smiled slightly. "Don't forget, Deb. I wasn't always old and sick. I used to be pretty hot in my day. Remember?"
"But your day wasn't Brian's day, Vic. Brian practically grew up in this house! It's almost.incestuous."
Vic shook his head. "Nonsense. I didn't live here, Deb. I only saw Brian on the odd visit or holiday. And the favor he did me was much later than his runaway to New York. Just before I came here, in fact. He was new with his advertising firm, recently out of college. Eager, determined to make it, gorgeous."
"Yes, I remember. Brian never had bad hair days like the rest of us."
"Anyway, I was at a low ebb. My partner, Tony, had been dead for a year. I was sick, not on the cocktail yet, wasting. Depressed. Lost my job. Out of money. Suicide was the plan."
Deb reached across the table to hold his hand and sighed. "I remember how bad it was, honey. Yet you were too damned proud to come stay with me."
"And be a freeloader and live in agony for a few sick months? Didn't seem like an option. Brian came to see me while he was in town. He walked into my soon to be evicted from flat like a God fallen off Olympus. He showed absolutely no reaction to how bad I looked, from the last time he saw me. He made me get dressed and go to dinner with him. A fancy dinner. Even in my designer duds, that I had to pin myself into, I was so thin, I looked like death on a cracker."
"You didn't, honey," she tried to say, but he waved her off.
"Of course I did. And yet there I was with this beautiful young faggot in a beautiful suit who was making me laugh with his adventures in the backrooms and the boardrooms of Pittsburgh. He then made me go to a club with him. A face place, where everyone but me was beautiful, and I was admitted entrance on his coattails. He danced only with me, as if I were Cinderella and he was the Prince. When I got tired, he sat down with me. He held my hand. He never looked at another man, and every man in the joint hit on him."
Debbie smiled. "Some things never change."
"Anyway, I got too tired to stay up, so he took me home in a limo and came upstairs with me. Once there, I told him, `Brian, you're the king of the scene.' He told me there would be no scene if not for men like me. It really belonged to me and to my cronies, dead and alive. `Never give up, Vic,' he pleaded with me. `They'll cure this thing.' And then he kissed me right on the lips. That full, red mouth of his, against my cadaverous face, a sweet and passionate kiss as if I were his dream man. Do you know how long it had been since anyone touched me? I felt as if he transferred some of his life force into me with that kiss. The next day, I flew back to Pittsburgh with him, first class. You never knew how or why I got here when I just showed up on your doorstep, Deb. Because he would never let me tell you. But I know, if not for Brian, I wouldn't have made it out of that flat in New York. I'd be bones by now."
Deb got up, and he followed her with his gaze. "You have nothing to say? What are you doing?"
"Getting my coat. And yours."
"Where are we going?"
When she turned around her eyes were filled with tears. "If we can't apologize to him over the phone, then we'll just show up on his doorstep. Come on, Vic! Let's get him before he hits the clubs!"
Vic smiled and hooked his arm through hers as they left the house together.
Next week on Transitions:
Justin's old friends take care of him, prompted by Brian. Brian and Trevor kindle a friendship while on retreat.
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July 25, 2004