The Phantom speaks: After that strange, aborted phone call with Gale, I've been in a daze. Maybe I hit my head when I fainted. (LOL!) I can't seem to get motivated to dig. Now I feel funny about what I would say when I saw him, because he must think I hung up on him. Well, he has a mobile phone, so perhaps he knows all about dropped calls. I think I'll just keep my head low and write until I get a better plan...
Last week on Transitions:
Brian and his team landed Trevor's account. Cynthia got her promotion. The teams celebrate the occasion at a local restaurant and bar. Brian is late because he stops off to ease his troubles at the baths after an innocent lunch with Justin leads to a confrontation with Ethan. Ethan takes out his anger on Justin when they are alone.
Scene 1: Brian's loft, late night.
Brian had stripped off his work armor and he wore a pair of gray sweatpants and nothing else when he opened the door to a fuming Michael. Brian blocked the entrance with his body.
"No means no, Mikey. I'm exhausted."
Michael pushed past him and Brian closed the door, rolling his eyes as he did so. He turned down the volume on his sound system and slumped onto the chaise, watching Michael simmer. "I know you took a hard blow when Justin split, Brian, but that doesn't excuse this self indulgent shit! Okay, so Mom shouldn't have excluded you and invited Ethan over, but she's apologized for that. Get over it. You don't have five minutes to spend with me, but you can get your cock sucked and then cozy up with some blond in the parking lot?"
"What are you doing? Following me?" Brian said half-seriously as he lit a cigarette.
"Just answer me."
"Answer what? You didn't ask me a question."
"Who is the blond in the parking lot?"
"And who is Trevor Rainer?"
"A friend, Mikey.
"Since when it became your business because...?"
"You can't tell me?"
"Mikey, maybe I don't want to tell you. Maybe your little get together over at Deb's made me realize I built this whole pseudo-family thing like a house of cards. One strong wind and it all falls down. I rolled with a lot of things from you guys, because I believed I got a lot back. I'm not so sure anymore. Maybe it's time for me to think about putting together a life of my own, independent of old habits."
"And I'm an old habit now?"
"No, Michael. I love you, you're my best and oldest friend, and you always will be. But you have Ben now, and he's your first priority, as he should be. Losing Justin made me realize just how empty my life is. If I fill it up with Trevor Rainer and blow jobs and whatever the hell it takes, then as my friend, you should just damn well let me."
Michael stared at Brian in wonder. He never had heard him say anything like this. "W-were you really that much in love with Justin?"
"Do you know me?" Brian said ambiguously, and then stared at the exposed ceiling far above him. "Go home, Mikey. It's late and I have to work tomorrow. We have a new account and it's gonna take a lot of my time to nurture it."
Michael walked over to him, pushing aside Brian's long legs so he could sit beside him on the chaise. He spread his hand on Brian's bare chest, and Brian covered it with his own hand. Michael's sympathetic expression made Brian wince. "Justin came by to see me today," Brian said quietly. "My office. I was so shocked to see him sitting there. For a moment I thought, but....no. He had been to the doctor's office, closeby, and just wanted to apologize for a shitty phone call we had. I asked him to go to lunch. I wanted to tell him all about my new account, just like we used to do. So, we're having a nice quiet lunch together and we look up and there's Ethan. He has a gig playing fiddle for this café where I often take clients. Ethan was a perfect shit about it, so I left them to it before I went nuts on the cunt. But Mikey, as I walked away, I wondered, what the fuck does Justin see in this guy? I'm sure Ethan would say the same about me. Neither of us deserve Justin. He deserves someone sweet, like you, or like Trevor. Someone decent."
Michael stretched out beside him, locking legs with Brian and resting his face on Brian's bare shoulder, hugging him tightly. "You're decent, Brian. You can be sweet, although, admittedly, not often."
They both laughed. Michael went on. "And Justin isn't perfect."
"You want him back, don't you?"
Brian grimaced and touched his forehead in a nervous gesture. "Like I ever wanted him to leave."
"I know, I know, Mikey. It's so fucking complicated. You want to sleep over? I have to go to bed."
"Sure, I'll call Ben."
Michael put his arm around Brian as they walked to the bed. He felt that Brian really didn't want to be alone, and could never admit that need for companionship. Ben was asleep when Michael called. Ben, sounding groggy, was not overly pleased with Michael's announcement about staying over with Brian. He hung up abruptly, but Michael felt he could explain it away in the morning. Ben was usually pretty compassionate towards Brian.
Brian, naked now, slipped between the sheets. Michael stripped to his underwear and crawled in beside him. He snuggled up to Brian's lean, muscular frame and snaked his arms around him. Brian, who seemed to be making a habit of sleeping in platonic innocence with other men, quickly drifted into a deep sleep. Michael willed his body not to give in to an old unrequited desire.
The next morning.
Michael woke to a persistent knocking sound. He sat up, realized he was alone in Brian's bed, and that someone was knocking on Brian's front door. He cursed, and called out, "BRIAN!" No answer. He wrapped up in Brian's discarded robe and crossed the loft, sliding the door open to find Justin on the other side. They stared at each other in stunned silence. Finally, Justin said, "I need to talk to Brian."
Michael frowned. "He's not here."
"Please, Michael," Justin pushed past him, as if he had to see for himself. He looked around, then sat down heavily at the table, disappointed. "Where is he?"
"I don't know. He didn't wake me up. At work, I suppose. What are you doing here so early? Why are you here at all? Forget something?"
"What are you doing sleeping over?" he shot back and Michael rolled his eyes and went into the kitchen, withdrawing a jug of orange juice from inside the fridge. He poured some into a tall glass and gulped it down. He retrieved the granola and poured it into a bowl, adding some milk. His proprietary manner around the kitchen that had so recently been Justin's domain made Justin feel replaced. "Why ARE you here, Michael?"
"I think the question is, why are YOU here, Justin? Brian's still my best friend. What exactly is he to you, now? Nothing."
"I love Brian. It's not as if I stopped loving Brian...I just couldn't....fuck you! I don't have to explain anything to you! This is the moment you've been waiting for, Michael. Of course you'll take advantage of it. Why not? I'm gone, Brian's vulnerable, move in for the kill. So how was he? Great, right? I'm sure he was everything you wanted him to be and more! He always is, in the sack!"
Justin started to leave, but Michael caught him at the threshold and whirled him around, pushing his back against the metal door. Although it was just a glancing blow, Justin howled with pain and shoved Michael with both hands. The push made Michael stumble back and land on his ass on the floor, staring up at Justin in wonder.
"What the fuck...?" Michael said incredulously, but Justin was tensed to fight.
"Don't you ever push me! Don't ever do that again! Don't put your hands on me! I'll beat the shit out of you! I swear I will!"
"Are you crazy?" Michael responded, but Justin fled the loft, and Michael made no move to follow.
Scene 2: Michael's Comic Book Store, that afternoon.
Michael looked up as Ethan entered his store. "Whazzup?" Michael asked cautiously. After his scene with Justin that morning, he was careful about any contact concerning the blond brat. Ethan shrugged.
"Has Justin been around here today?"
"I thought he may be working with you on that Rage comic."
"We were supposed to work on it this afternoon, but..." they both looked up as the door opened and Justin entered. He stopped cold in the doorway when he saw Ethan. He thought about running, but he was too numb to move, and his leg was hurting so badly, he knew he could never outrun him.
"There you are," Ethan said brightly. "When I woke up this morning you had already gone out. I know you don't have an early class today. Where did you go?" Ethan kissed Justin's cheek. He felt Justin wince and withdraw from him.
"I was hungry and we didn't have any breakfast food in the house," Justin said quickly. "So I went out."
"Where did you go?"
"Uh, the diner." Justin shot Michael a pleading look.
"I stopped by the diner and asked about you. No one remembered seeing you there."
"Michael saw me there, didn't you, Michael? You saw me this morning," Justin's look was almost desperate and Michael sighed.
"Yeah, I saw you this morning. How short a leash you keep him on, Ethan?"
Ethan recovered his charm. "He's not on a leash. I'm glad he went out to eat, he hasn't had much appetite lately. How did you pay for it? You left your wallet at home."
"My treat," Michael cut in and Justin gave him a grateful smile.
"So I thought we might take in that new exhibit at the museum this afternoon, since neither of us have a class," Ethan offered, but Justin declined.
"Michael and I have to work on the comic."
"Well, I'll go alone then. Should I come back over and pick you up later?"
"No, I'll probably be at it longer than you are. I'll just meet you at the apartment."
"Okay, but don't be late."
"I won't be."
"Justin, I mean it. Don't be late."
A gaze passed between them. Ethan grabbed Justin and kissed him hard on the lips. Michael saw Justin tense, even from across the shop. Justin watched out the windows until Ethan disappeared around the corner. He then turned to Michael, his face suddenly drained of color.
"I feel kind of dizzy," he said softly, and Michael rushed to him just before Justin sank to his knees. Michael helped him sit on the floor and forced Justin's head down to his knees, retrieving a bottle of water. When Justin felt good enough to stand up, he sipped the water gratefully. "Thanks."
"What the fuck is going on?" Michael demanded. Justin sighed and shook his head.
"Please don't tell Brian."
"Tell Brian what? I have no idea what just happened here. Come on, let me help you over to a chair," he put an arm around Justin who groaned and moved free of him. "Did you hurt your back?" Michael noticed the flinch.
Michael smiled. "You know, having an affair with a chiropractor taught me a few things about sore backs. Stand still and let me..." he ran his hands down Justin's spine, but Justin cried out and moved away.
"Stop it, Michael! That hurts. Just leave me alone."
"I didn't even do anything."
"Let it go."
"Okay," Michael realized Justin was too spooked and jumpy to be reprimanded for his behavior. "Have you eaten anything today?"
"No wonder you feel faint. It's about time for Mom to bring my lunch. I'll call and ask her to bring enough for you."
"Thanks. Can I use your bathroom?"
"Sure. You know where it is. In back, behind the curtain."
Michael called the diner and was talking to his mother. "Ask Sunshine if he wants his usual chicken salad or if he wants to try that egg salad chef makes every once in awhile," Debbie insisted.
"Ok, hold on," he sat the receiver down and walked to the back. Before he could speak, he saw through the slight separation of the curtains that Justin was standing with his back to the sink, his shirt up. He was trying to see his back in the mirror above the basin. A dark purple bruise the size of a football spread across his mid-back. No wonder he was so sensitive to touch. Michael sensed he shouldn't interrupt. He withdrew and instructed his mother to bring the chicken salad. When Justin came back out, he smiled sheepishly at Michael.
"Sorry I was such a brat this morning. Thanks for covering for me. I know Ethan wouldn't want me to visit Brian. He's still kind of jealous of him."
"What's going on, Justin? Are you and Brian sneaking around together already?"
"No!" Justin winced. "It's not like that. But I was with Brian for a long time, and I still care about him and miss him. Is that so strange? That I may want to see him occasionally, just as a friend?"
"Occasionally? Yesterday, in his office and this morning at his loft? That's almost stalking, Justin. Are you and Ethan getting along okay?"
"Yes," he wrinkled his nose. "It's just hard, getting started. Money's a problem and we're both juggling school and part time jobs and...it's not easy."
"I'm sure, especially after you got used to Brian paying all the bills while you lived in luxury."
"Don't do this, Michael. I'm not in the mood."
"You need to give Brian some room, Justin."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean your decision to leave him really hurt him. He's still struggling with it. He can't exactly come to terms with your being gone if you're in his face all the time, can he? It's just cruel. You made your choice. Live with it."
"I am living with it, Michael. I'm living with it every day. But why does that mean I can't be friends with Brian?"
"Because you busted his balls. Maybe someday you can be, but he's still bleeding, Justin, and you keep rubbing his face in it. If you ever cared for him, give him some time to heal. Stay the hell away from him."
"But," Justin sighed. How could he tell Michael that Brian was the only one he could ever tell about his problems with Ethan? Maybe he couldn't say the words even to Brian, but he knew he couldn't say them to anyone else. Was he being unfair? After all, he did leave Brian for another man. He knew how much it hurt Brian, even if Brian showed nothing on the surface. Justin knew him better than that. He sighed. Michael was right. He should find his own solutions. He couldn't run back to Brian for help and protection, not after what he did to him. It wasn't fair. And yet how was he supposed to get through the day without seeing him or hearing his voice? He supposed that was his problem, too. He gave up the right to see Brian or talk to Brian when he left with Ethan. "I guess you're right, Michael. I should give him space."
"I know I'm right. Justin, you and Brian haven't had a fight, have you? I mean a confrontation or something?"
"Brian and I really don't fight. We never did. Not like other couples. We had our differences, but we seldom fought about it. You know Brian. He withdraws."
"I also know his Irish temper."
"I hardly ever saw that side of him."
"Why, Michael. What is this all about?"
"Nothing," Michael knew he would never get it out of Justin if Brian got physical with him. The emotions between Brian and Justin were so hot when they were together, Michael could see it careen out of control. After all, Brian had a legacy of abuse at the hand of his own father. Did Brian's volatility prompt Justin to leave him? Was Brian hiding something? It couldn't be Ethan, Michael decided. He was too quiet, too small, too artistic. Brian was the potentially dangerous dog in this mix. He raged, he was strong and very physical. Michael took out some notes he had been making on the next issue of the comic, and they began to work on it, distracted by the creative process, much to Justin's relief.
Scene 3: Debbie Novotny's kitchen, evening.
Brian and Vic were laughing over the pictures in a photo album that was spread out on the kitchen table. Debbie was cooking her marinara sauce and offering an occasional quip..
"And this is me and a couple of ‘mates', as they say in England, under the arch leading to Carnaby Street."
"Tell me you did NOT wear those clothes in public, Vic," Brian insisted, taking in the striped, hiphugger bell bottoms, ruffled orange shirt and hot pink curly fur vest Vic wore in the picture. He looked like a white pimp from a bad genre movie of the early 1970's.
"Not only did I wear it," Vic admitted, "But I'll have you know, a boutique owner asked me to sashay down his runway in exchange for some freebie fashions, I was so FLY in those clothes."
Debbie groaned. "Fly? You were so FRIED in those clothes. You guys took so many drugs you don't even remember London!"
Brian laughed. "How did you afford the trip?"
"Honey, I was dating an airline steward and he had free passes for the airfare. I paid for the rest of it by slamming pastries together on double overtime. London was so much fun, back then. I'm sure it won't be nearly that flamboyant for you."
"Vic, I couldn't be that flamboyant in a drag contest," Brian teased.
"Bitch," Vic ruffled Brian's hair. Brian laughed and smoothed it over.
"What about London? Is Ben here yet?" Michael hugged his mother and patted Vic's shoulder, but only nodded at Brian.
"He called to say he'll be about fifteen minutes late, honey," Debbie responded.
"Didn't Brian tell you? He's going to London!"
Michael let his gaze settle on his friend. "With that blond guy? Trevor?"
"With my British client, Mikey."
"Not really. I've been working on this account for a long time. Vic, I want to go to Jeremyn Street and have a suit made. Or maybe Saville Row. That's where all the great tailoring is."
Vic sighed. "How times have changed. The young go where the bowler hats used to hang out."
"I'm sure the clubs won't go untried," Brian said with a smirk. "I understand the gay scene there is wide open."
"You could find a gay scene in Timbuktu," Michael groused, and Brian glared at him.
"What's your beef, Mikey?"
"You're a jerk, that's my beef."
"Why am I a jerk?"
"I don't have to tell you, Brian."
"I think you do."
"Michael, this is Brian's dinner," Debbie warned him. "We're going to have a good time. I don't want to listen to you two snipe at each other like when you were adolescents."
"Fine. We'll go upstairs. Come on, Brian. Before Ben gets here."
Brian sighed, and followed him upstairs, casting Vic a martyred look that made Michael's uncle smile. In his old bedroom, Michael closed the door while Brian flopped down on the bed, his hands crossed behind his head. "Don't get too comfortable," Michael warned.
"Why? You gonna spank me?" Brian teased.
"Brian, remember when you were a kid and your father used to beat you?"
Brian sat up abruptly, staring at his friend. "What the fuck? Shut up! I'm not talking about Jack or any of that old shit. It's water under the bridge. Jack is in the ground, and I've been big enough to defend myself for a long time now."
"I know you are. And I know you always said you would never hit your own kid if you ever had one, no matter how mad he made you."
"Right. And I never will. So?"
"Abuse is multi-generational. I saw a show on it. It goes on for generations."
"No, Michael. You didn't watch it to the end. It CAN be, but only if you don't break the cycle. I broke that cycle. I'm not Jack."
"I've seen your temper, Brian."
"Yeah, but having a temper and striking your kid are two different things. What's going on? Is this about Gus?"
"No, it's about Justin."
"What about Justin?"
"Did you hit him? Is that why he left? Because you hit him?"
Brian stood up, shaking his head as he walked over to the window, and looked out. "This isn't funny, Michael. How can you ask me that?"
"Just answer the question."
"Did he tell you I hit him?"
"What EXACTLY did he tell you?"
"He told me enough to make me wonder," Michael stretched the truth in order to open Brian up.
Brian thought back to any incident in their relationship that Justin could interpret as physical abuse. Only one came to mind. The night Brian decided to confront Justin about Ethan, things got ugly. Brian let Justin know without words that he was onto him. Brian wasn't proud of the rage he felt. He wasn't proud of how hurt he was, how betrayed. He hated feeling that out of control, that raw. He remembered turning it into a sexual match, forcing himself on Justin with such intensity, that he was startled by his own anger. He made Justin beg for it, want it so badly he was about to explode, and then Brian denied it to him. It was a power trip. He wanted Justin to know that Brian had the key to his sexuality and how much he still desired his first lover. But once he made his point, Brian withdrew from him. Rejected him. It was raw, it was ugly, but it wasn't violent. Justin begged him for it. That hardly suggested he was in fear.
The only other time things got a little rough was when Brian pretended to choke Justin, mainly so Justin would see how serious it could be to fail to control a trick. He wanted him to realize that he had to be cautious at all times. Brian made the point for Justin's own safety, and he never hurt him. He just scared him.
Michael misunderstood Brian's silent contemplation. "How could you?"
Brian turned and met his eyes. He had become deathly still, posed at the window like a statue. For Brian, it was all part of his control mechanism. "You've known me how long? How can you know me so little? How can my best friend think I would...and to Justin, my...my... Justin...who was hurt so horribly right before my eyes. I was covered in his blood that night, Mikey. Remember? You were there. I was covered in his blood. How could you think...I would ever EVER hurt him or let him be hurt again? How can you think that about me? And if you do think that, how can you be my friend?"
"Brian, I..." Michael realized his mistake and tried to grab Brian's arm but he pulled free and walked over to the door. "I'm sorry, Brian, I..."
"Fuck you!" Brian left the room and rushed down the stairs. "I can't stay. Sorry Debbie, Vic, I have to go..."
"What? Brian!" She tried to follow, but he eased past Ben who was entering the house as Brian left. Brian didn't even speak to him as they passed each other. He escaped to his Jeep and drove away. Michael also passed Ben and stood helplessly on the sidewalk watching Brian drive off. He turned to face the questioning faces of his family and lover.
"I fucked up, okay?" Michael said. "I don't want to talk about it."
"He looked like you stabbed him in the gut," Ben observed, and Michael sighed and rested his head on Ben's hard chest.
"Don't make it worse."
"So another dinner at my house is fucked up for Brian. Thank you very much, Michael," his mother said. They all went in, except for Vic, who stood there for a few minutes, regaining his cool. He was amazed at his nephew's ability to stomp his best friend when Brian most needed his support.
"Run to London, Brian," Vic whispered softly into the night. "And don't ever look back."
Next week on Transitions:
Brian crashes after Michael's accusation and Trevor shelters him, but gives him an ultimatum. Brian runs into Justin in Torso, and they argue. Later, Brian asks a favor of Vic.
|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.
Contact Site Admin with questions or technical problems.
July 25, 2004