The Phantom speaks: I can't sleep. I feel so bad about hanging up on Gale. Accidentally, of course. I toss and turn on my cot. Suddenly, a tall, lean figure emerges from the darkness. "I figured this was where you had your lair," he said softly. He smelled of cigarettes and soap. He sat down behind my computer, stretching out his long legs and giving me one of those enigmatic smiles. "So you're the Phantom? I'm disappointed." I could only stare and stutter, "W-why?" "Because you're a skinny blond kid, not some dark, mysterious tragic figure." "I thought you liked skinny blond kids." "That's Brian. I'm Gale." "What does Gale like?" And then I woke up before he could answer! DAMN! Another dream! Or...was it?? I can still smell the soap...
Last week on Transitions:
Michael confronts Brian about Trevor. Michael then stays over at Brian's loft, and is awakened in the morning when Justin knocks at the door. Brian is gone. Justin misunderstands why Michael is there and they have words. That afternoon, Justin shows up at the comic book store, and unknown to Justin, Michael sees the bruise on Justin's back. Brian goes over to Deb's for dinner. Michael takes him upstairs and accuses him of abusing Justin. Furious that Michael could believe such a thing about him, Brian leaves without his dinner.
Scene 1: Trevor's penthouse, late night.
Trevor waited at the elevator until Brian arrived at the penthouse level. The security guard at the desk, rightfully suspicious of a big, inebriated late night visitor, had called to see if it was alright to send Brian up.
"Trev!" Brian threw both arms around Trevor. "Did I wake you?" He took in Trevor's cashmere robe.
"At two a.m.? Why think that? Come on. You're as pissed as a sailor."
They went into the apartment. Trevor escorted Brian to the couch, where he slumped back like a ragdoll. "Did you drive over here?" Trevor asked, his concern evident.
"Drive? In this condition? Shit, I took a cab, Trev. I'm not that stupid!"
"Thank God for that," Trevor started the coffeemaker and then sat beside Brian. "What happened?"
"Something set off this bender."
"Ohhh," Brian reached in his pocket. "Can I smoke in here?"
"No." Trevor took the pack of cigarettes from him. Sam, the dog, came over and sniffed Brian, wagged his tail slowly, then skulked off to bed. The habits of humans were too mysterious to contemplate. "Tell me, Brian."
"I had a fight with Mikey."
"Your best friend? That Mikey?"
"Was it serious?"
"When I was a kid, my old man used to whale on me pretty regularly," Brian said with a smirk. "One day, Jack hit me in the face and it dawned on me I was as big as he was, if not bigger. And a lot younger and more agile. I told him if he ever hit me again, I was gonna flatten him."
"Did that stop him?"
"He never hit me again. I hated being hit. It was embarrassing to go to school with a black eye or a nose that wouldn't stop bleeding. Mikey was around back then. He knows how I feel about it. And yet that didn't stop him from accusing me tonight of abusing Justin."
"Why on earth would he do that?"
Brian shrugged. "I dunno, Trev. But if he really believed that I was capable of such a thing, how could he be my friend? How could he think I would ever raise a hand to Justin? My Justin?"
"It's very odd, I'll grant you. Do you suppose Justin said something to him?"
"Why would he lie like that?"
"I can't imagine." Trevor went to the kitchen and returned with a mug of steaming black coffee. "Drink this."
"I feel so bad, Trev. So fucking bad."
Trevor moved closer to him and put an arm around his shoulders. Brian leaned back, resting his head on Trevor's shoulder. Suddenly, he turned, moving his lips to Trevor's neck, his chin, his cheek. Trevor reached up and placed his index finger on Brian's full lower lip. "Don't do that, Brian. Please."
Brian took Trevor's hand away from his face and placed it on his crotch where his cock was already building into an erection. Trevor's eyes closed as he considered giving in, but he thought better of it. He pulled away and helped Brian stand. Trevor led Brian down a hall to a guest room and sat him down on the bed. As Trevor knelt down to remove Brian's shoes and socks, Brian watched the top of Trevor's blond head while he performed this strangely intimate act. His lust increased with a blast of testosterone. Brian unzipped his fly and took it out. It was already hard, beautiful, a true weapon of seduction.
"Suck me," Brian insisted. Trevor stared at it, his natural response quickening his pulse. But then he stood and shook his head.
"I never take advantage of twinks or drunks. Behave, Brian."
"Are you sure you're not straight?" Brian teased, giving his dick a luxurious stroke. Trevor sighed, fighting his instincts. He helped Brian out of his jacket and tie, and unbuttoned his shirt, deliberately not looking lower. He pushed him back on the bed, unable to avoid the obscenely provocative sight of Brian's big cock bumping up against his belly. Trevor pulled the duvet out from under Brian, and then covered him with it.
"I'm sure. Now go to sleep."
"What about...? You leaving me like this?"
"Yes, Brian, I am. If it bothers you, well, that's why God gave you a fist," he leaned down and kissed Brian's forehead, avoiding his reach for him. "Goodnight."
Brian moaned as Trevor turned off the light and left the room. Before Brian could even think about masturbating, he was fast asleep. Trevor was less lucky. He spent the remainder of the night in feverish recollection of what he had missed.
Scene 2: Ben's Apartment. Same night.
Michael sat up in bed, unable to sleep. Ben switched on the lamp, causing them both to wince. He reached over to stroke Michael's back. "Stop thinking about it. You can talk to him in the morning. Apologize."
"He doesn't even answer his mobile. Where is he?"
"He's all grown up. He could be anywhere, or maybe he's asleep and has his phones set to go to messaging. Michael, I'm not clear how you concluded Brian may have hit Justin. Was it something Justin said?"
Michael tried Brian's loft again, no answer. He left another message. "Not really. I told you I saw that bruise on his back, and it just occurred to me that maybe Justin had reasons for leaving Brian that we don't know about."
"Did you ask him how he got it?"
"No, I was kind of spying on him. It was awkward."
"So he could have injured himself in a thousand ways."
"So why Brian?"
"He's volatile, hurt, angry...I've seen Brian get violent with people before and he's very intimidating."
"No. But...when you were with him, and he tied you up, did it get rough?"
"No rougher than I wanted it to get," Ben said softly and Michael winced. He hated the fact his lover and his best friend had a shared history.
"Did he hit you?"
"Of course not, Michael. He was very considerate."
"Justin's acting so weird."
"He just left a man he idolizes, is trying to begin a new relationship, still suffers from the trauma of the bashing, and is getting no help for it. He's entitled. Could Ethan be abusive?"
"That little squirt?"
Ben bit his lip. He figured Ethan was exactly the same stature as Michael. "Size means nothing in an abusive situation. Women have been known to abuse men. It's a power issue."
"I doubt it. He strikes me as a foppish musician type. I think Justin could defend himself against Ethan."
"Michael, it's almost three in the morning. Let's go to sleep. Tomorrow you can address this with Brian. If you still have concerns for Justin, tell him so."
"No, tell Justin. Brian has enough on his plate."
Michael nodded and snuggled into Ben's arms as his lover turned off the light.
Scene 3: Trevor's penthouse. The next morning.
Trevor left a robe and a pair of freshly laundered boxers in the bathroom attached to Brian's guest room. A bottle of Advil was prominently placed beside a bottle of Evian. Trevor was finishing breakfast when Brian walked into the dining room. Brian wore only the two items of apparel Trevor had left out for him. His skin was still damp from a shower. He was holding the half empty bottle of Evian. He put it down to fill a cup with coffee and sat at the table, massaging his eyes as a headache blistered through his brain.
"Want something to eat?" Trevor offered.
Brian winced. "God no!"
"Brian, you have to get help."
"What do you mean?"
"You can't go on this way."
"Drinking to excess, raging at friends, not sleeping, wandering the night, tricking."
Brian tried to smile. "Welcome to my world."
"Bullshit, Brian. Get a grip. You're over thirty. You have a job that entails true responsibility. You have a son to support. You have to grow up before you ruin yourself in a sea of inappropriate behaviors in order to avoid painful issues." He saw Brian's obstinate reaction begin to build on his handsome face, but Trevor wouldn't let that response deter him. "Get help. See a shrink. You have childhood abuse issues, you have a fear of intimacy, you have rage problems, and chemical dependencies. If you keep on this way, in five years, you won't look the way you do now. Your body will give up. And then what will you have? Your career will be jeopardized or lost, you'll have alienated your friends, the tricks won't be so easy to attract. You'll be a pathetic drunk, a joke. I'm telling you this because I care for you, Brian, and because I am entrusting a great deal of money to your firm, under your direction. You need help. Get it."
Brian glared at him, feeling exposed and embarrassed. People didn't talk to him that way. He was Brian Kinney, for chrissakes. He didn't need that kind of advice. "Fuck you!"
Trevor stood and grabbed his jacket from the back of a vacant chair. "Fine. I have to go to work. Please be sure you pull the front door closed when you go. It locks automatically and the alarm is set. You may call a cab from here, or the security guard will summon one for you."
"Trevor..." Brian began, but Trevor stopped him.
"I'm not an enabler, Brian, unlike many of your old friends. Sorry. I call it the way I see it. And I see a very talented, brilliant, loving man in great distress. It hurts me, because I care for you so much. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I can see where one is needed. I've been through therapy myself. I still go occasionally. You need professional help, Brian. I will support you to the end if you seek it. I will hold your hand through the rough times. I will be there for you at any hour. But if you continue to refuse to get the help you need, to sink lower and lower into purgatory, I can't stand idly by and watch it happen. It's because I care, Brian, not because I don't care. We'll have to stop seeing each other. And if you fuck up my account, I will pull the business in a heartbeat."
With that, Trevor left. Brian sat there in stunned silence, pondering Trevor's exit speech.
Scene 3: Luxe. Lunch hour.
This was only the second time Brian had been to Luxe. The first time he visited the austere club with the good views was when he lunched with Trevor. Today, he was lunching with Gardner Vance. Gardner was devouring a decadent dessert entitled Death by Chocolate, while Brian sipped espresso.
"You eat like a damned bird," Gardner groused and Brian shrugged.
"Have to stay slim."
"I could never make it in your world, if that's the case."
"Gardner, I'm going to London with Trevor, as you know. After that meeting, I'm going to take some time off."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean a vacation. I haven't had a vacation since I started working, at least no longer than a day or two. I've been working since the day I graduated from college. I work long hours under a lot of stress. I'm tired. I have things going on in my private life that I need to deal with. I need a break."
"For how long?"
"I don't know. A couple weeks, maybe. Three, if I can manage the time."
"What about the account you just landed? How can it be ignored?"
"It can't, but I have a very talented team working on it. We're in pre-launch now, where a lot of the activity is process. The creative has been done. I'll be back for the next critical phase, which will be production review. And I'll stay in touch in case I'm needed. I don't plan to go to the Australian outback, beyond the reach of civilization."
"Where will you go?"
"I'm not sure."
Vance leaned back, sated on chocolate, and peered intensely at his top rainmaker. "Are you alright?"
Brian nodded. "I just need to refuel."
"I've never asked, Brian. Do you have a...what would he be called? A ‘significant other' in your life?"
Brian shook his head. "No." Not anymore, he thought to himself.
"Why not? Good looking, successful young man like yourself. You must be considered a catch. You would be in the straight world."
Brian rolled his eyes. "You have a son you want to fix me up with or something, Gardner? You have an inordinate amount of interest in my sex life."
"Curiosity, perhaps. You fascinate me, Brian. You're bright, creative, talented, and yet you seem so cool and remote, as if you exist on a whole other plane than the rest of us."
"I'm not feeling very cool and remote right now, which is why I need a break."
"In that case, I hope you find what you're looking for, and come back to us, refreshed and enthusiastic."
Brian thanked him, hoping for precisely the same result.
Scene 4: Torso. Same afternoon.
"Justin, this is made for you," Emmett held up a periwinkle blue sweater to Justin's torso. Justin pushed it away.
"I can't afford clothes."
Emmett looked shocked. "Don't EVER say you can't afford clothes! You may not be able to afford food or rent, but one can ALWAYS afford clothes!"
Justin smiled and listlessly fingered some clothing isolated from the racks. "These look like Brian, don't they? They're even his size." He glanced at a black leather jacket, black cashmere sweater, black shirt, and two pairs of black trousers, one leather, one wool.
"I'm holding them for Brian, honey. He's coming in later to try them on. They're for his trip to London."
Justin looked stunned. "Brian's going to London?"
"Yes! Only Brian could find a way to get his trip paid for by his company as a business expense."
"Who's going with him?"
Emmett looked confused. "Why, no one, I guess, honey. It's business! What's wrong? Worried about being replaced? Don't be. I suspect it will take Brian a very long time to decide whether he wants to become involved with someone again after...well, you know."
"After I was so bad to him?"
"I never said that, and don't believe you were, Justin. What's bothering you, honey?"
Justin sighed and sat down heavily on a stool behind the cash register. "I don't know. It's weird to think of Brian being so far away. And we talked about going to London or Paris or somewhere one day. Now he is. Without me."
"It's not like he won't be back, and is that really any of your concern anymore?"
"I know, but..."
"I don't know."
"It's only natural. Brian played a big part in your life. Uh-oh, here he is. You can slip out through the employee entrance."
Justin looked up as Brian entered the store. Brian looked extremely handsome in a dark charcoal suit and red shirt and tie. "I...I don't have to hide from Brian."
Brian saw Justin seated there and felt his gut tighten, but he gave away no obvious reaction. "Hi, Em, Justin."
They both returned his greeting and Emmett began holding up the choices he had isolated for his consideration. Brian examined each one with a critical eye. "So," Justin said softly. "You're going to London?"
"With that Brit?"
"His name is Trevor, Justin. And yes, he's going. It's his home office I'm going to visit. Like I said, it's business."
"Yeah, right. I know that kind of business."
Brian glanced at him. "What's your problem?"
"Not you. Not anymore. Thank god. Bye, Emmett," Justin hopped down. He started out of the store, when Brian cursed, threw a shirt at Emmett and followed Justin, grabbing his arm to stop him. Justin yanked free, glaring at Brian.
"Don't manhandle me!"
Brian held his palms up, stunned by that accusation. "I'm not manhandling you. Did you tell Mikey I did?"
"Why the hell would I do that?"
"You tell me."
"I never did!"
"Then where did he get the idea that I hit you?"
Others were watching, and Brian herded Justin into an empty dressing room and closed the door. They stared at each other, reflected in triple mirrors, then Brian said, "I asked you a question."
"How do I know where Mikey gets any idea?"
Brian stared down at Justin's handsome face, so flushed with emotion, so familiar and enticing. That cleft in his lower lip invited his touch. The raspberry shade of pink of his lips contrasted with the creamy white of his skin. The lights sparkled off his pale hair, and the mirror offered Brian a view of Justin's firmly rounded ass as well as this frontal image. Desire blistered through him with the force of a tsunami. Justin saw the look on Brian's face, and he knew what it meant. He felt an answering lick of heat in his groin. It was the first time he wanted sex since Ethan hit him with the phone. This reawakening of what had been such a big part of his life was shocking. The emotion traveled between them on an invisible current that began in one and grounded in the other. Their eyes met, announcing the fact they knew it was wrong. They also knew it was inevitable.
Brian grabbed him in his arms and pulled him close, covering his mouth with his own. Justin closed his arms around Brian's neck, feeling as if it had been a year since they last touched, rather than weeks. Their bodies conformed, as if made from matching molds, each valley met by an answering hill. Brian threw off his coat and tie, then skinned Justin's t-shirt and jacket, plunging his tongue deep into his mouth. When Brian glimpsed at their embrace in the mirrors, he saw the bruise on Justin's back in graphic triplicate. He paused, withdrew, pushed Justin to arm's length. Justin grabbed Brian's undershirt in both fists, wanting more, but Brian stopped him.
"What the hell happened to your back?"
Only now did Justin remember the abuse. He didn't want it to spoil this moment. "Forget it. It's nothing," he responded, opening Brian's belt.
Brian covered his hand with his own, stopping him. "Your forehead and now your back? What happened?
Justin knew if he told him the truth, a firestorm would begin. He wasn't up to it. So he lied. "Ok, I had a little accident. It's nothing. I...I slipped going down the stairs and bounced down a few on my butt and hit my back on the edge of a stair. The forehead was a separate thing, like I told you. Now, would you please kiss me?"
"No," Brian held firmly to Justin's biceps, staring down at him. For years, he did what he feared Justin was doing now. He made up plausible excuses for bruises and cuts and bleeding wounds. He got to be very clever at it, and he fooled almost everyone, but he resented it and hated himself for being such a coward. "Is he hitting you?" Brian asked bluntly, concealing the rage and disgust that inquiry touched off in him. He knew he had to go about this slowly.
Justin pulled free and grabbed his shirt, yanking it over his head. "Oh for chrissakes, Brian! Don't be such a drama queen!"
"Don't cover for him, Justin. If he's hitting you, tell me right now, and we'll handle it. You can't live in that environment. Don't try. Is he?"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? So you can finally rescue me. So you can say I made a stupid mistake in going with Ethan. So I can come crawling back to you with my tail between my legs. Well, you didn't rescue me that night, when you had the chance, did you, Brian? I'm the one who got bashed in the head and almost killed while you sat in your car!"
Brian felt as if he had been struck, shocked by Justin's accusation. "That's not true. As soon as I saw Hobbs, I got out, I ran over, I yelled at you to look out, it was too late to stop him, Justin. I tried. You think I didn't try?"
"What good did it do? If I'm not safe with you sitting five feet from me, then I'm not safe with you anywhere, am I? If Ethan was beating me, you couldn't protect me from him, could you? But the fact is, Ethan loves me. He loves me! He brings me roses, and he reads me love poetry and he doesn't cheat on me! He tells me how he feels every day and he's an artist, not some asshole businessman! And in bed, he's better than you could ever be, Brian, because he LOVES me, not because he has so much technical experience in the backrooms and baths! I must have been crazy letting you...thinking you...don't touch me again, you understand? Just leave me alone!"
Justin ran from the room and the store as Brian slumped down on the bench, picking up his shirt and staring at it as if it were the scarf Justin had been wearing when he was bashed. Once white, then crimson. The red shirt bloodied Brian's hands as Emmett entered the room and closed the door, his expression concerned. He placed a hand on Brian's shoulder, feeling him flinch.
"Are you okay, honey?"
Brian looked up at him, his eyes broadcasting the utter depth of his pain. "He thinks I was a coward. That I failed to protect him," he said quietly. "I tried, Em. It was over so quickly. I stopped Hobbs from any further blows, but he had already done the damage. No one could have gotten to him any faster than I did."
"We all know that, Brian. So does he. You were heroic! He's just...mixed up right now. I think he feels very uncertain about his decision and ..."
Brian put on his suit jacket over his undershirt and carried his shirt as he left the store, unable to discuss this any further.
Scene 5: Brian's loft, later that night.
"Thanks for coming, Vic," Brian said as he admitted Michael's uncle to his home. Vic could see that Brian had been drinking, but he wasn't drunk. Vic accepted Brian's offer of a drink and sat down beside him on the couch. A fire was burning in the hearth and the music was low and jazzy. Subdued, for Brian.
"You sounded desperate on the phone, kid."
"I am desperate."
"How can I help?"
Brian related the conversation with Justin, and Vic was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, "You know he doesn't feel that way, Brian."
"I don't know that. He's right, in a way. I did sit there while he got bashed."
"Bullshit. You were in your car, you had no reason to believe something horrible was about to happen. You were on cloud nine and suddenly POW! Out of the shadows, this horror appeared. You reacted immediately and that action saved his life. If Hobbs landed one more blow, it most likely would have killed Justin, and you prevented that with your quick action. You stopped the son of a bitch from coming back at him while you phoned for the help. How does that make you a culprit in any way, Brian?"
Brian stood, scrubbing his fingers through his hair in a nervous gesture. He still wore an undershirt and the trousers to his Dolce and Gabbana suit. He looked fragile and shellshocked. "Because I fucking failed to stop him from making that first blow, Vic! I failed to protect him! He's right!"
Vic walked over to him and put his arms around Brian's waist, holding to him when he tried to twist free. Brian gave up and collapsed against him, resting his forehead on his shoulder. "Now I get to go on knowing not only has he fallen out of love with me, but he also blames me for his problems from the bashing."
"I don't believe that, Brian."
"You weren't there."
"I've been around you two enough that I don't need to be there. Before and after the bashing, Justin adored you."
"It would explain a lot, wouldn't it? How he stayed with me while he was still too numb to know better, but pulled away as soon as he could function. Because he resented me for failing him, Vic. I see that now."
"Do you resent Michael for failing to protect you, Brian?"
Brian looked confused. "What does that mean? When would I expect Mikey to protect me?"
"When you were young and your old man beat you up. Neither Mikey nor Debbie did anything to protect you. Do you resent them for that?"
Brian looked shocked by that question. He pulled back from Vic, collapsing on the sofa, his head in his hands. "I lied. They didn't know."
"Of course they knew, Brian. They just didn't know what to do about it. Things were different back then. No one was sure how to handle child abuse. I remember Deb called me in New York and said she was concerned that Mikey's little friend Brian was being abused by his father. She had no clue what to do. Know what I told her?"
"To stay out of it, that it was a family affair. She would only make things worse for you by making Jack angry. Because that's what people did back then. When I later met you and put a face to a name and found out what a wonderful boy you were, you think I didn't hate myself for preaching abstention?"
Brian reached over and placed his hand on Vic's thigh. "It's okay. It was a long time ago."
"This is not your fault, Brian. I don't know what's going on with Justin, but he had no business dumping his bucket on you that way."
Brian met his eyes. "I'm afraid Ethan may have hit him. He denies it, in fact that's when he got furious, but I know that fury. It's shame and embarrassment and a sense of helplessness. What if I'm right?"
"Brian, honey, baby, sweetie..." Vic rubbed the back of his neck, feeling Brian's steely tension in his muscles. "Did it ever occur to you that you may WANT that to be the case, at least on one level? Make Ethan a villain, rescue Justin, the break up is just a nightmare. You get your boy back."
Brian nodded. "I see your point. But what if that's not the case? What if I'm right and Ethan is abusive?"
"Then Justin has to get out and get help. You can't rescue him from that even if it's true. Does that strong boy you fell in love with strike you as the type to be someone's punching bag?"
"I know from personal experience that it doesn't always work out that way, Vic. You can't always just pick up and leave. And Justin isn't that strong boy, Justin is a damaged boy and he has yet to heal from all that damage, so I can't expect him to act predictably and neither can you."
"There is some truth to that. I always felt he should see a shrink after he left the hospital."
"I tried to make him, but he wouldn't. How can I go to London with this hanging over my head?"
Vic raised Brian's chin on his fingertips. "Baby, you have a life to live. Justin chose to focus his life on someone else. As painful as it is, you have to let go. You have to let him make his own choices, his own mistakes. Maybe, after he grows up a little, he'll understand what a prize he lost in you. And he'll come back by his own volition, and you can make your choice at that time as to whether you want him back or not."
Brian sighed. "If he's okay."
"I'll keep an eye on things, Brian. You go to London, have fun, take a much overdue rest and don't worry about this fucking cesspool for awhile."
"Will you really keep an eye on him, Vic? Because if Ethan touches him..."
"I don't believe Ethan's hitting him, baby. I really don't. And yes, I'll watch the situation for you and call you if things look amiss. Now go take a hot shower to relax those muscles and I'll whip up a chef's special for you. You need to eat."
"I don't have much food in the house."
"What do you think is in that bag I brought? Sex toys?"
Brian laughed. He didn't think he could laugh, but he did. "I seem to remember you had a certain fondness for some sex toys."
"Memories better left hidden," Vic said with a grimace and Brian kissed his cheek as he headed for the bathroom. He paused in the doorway.
"Thanks, Vic. I owe you one. Again."
"Honey, you don't owe me a damn thing. You saved my life. I'm still on the debit side of the ledger."
"All I did was drag your skinny ass back to this cesspool from one of the greatest cities in the world."
"Which saved my life. I will always credit you for that, Mr. Kinney."
Brian winced, unable to accept such a big compliment, and disappeared into the bathroom for his shower. Vic began preparing the paper-thin veal he brought to make his dish, wondering if Brian's concern about Justin was born of guilt and a longing to have him back, or whether it was grounded in some dark set of facts. Either way, Brian was the exact wrong person to handle it now. He was too fragile himself, too emotionally triggered. Vic wondered if he had the strength to investigate it himself. He decided he must, because he saw no other choice.
Next week on Transitions:
Brian and Trevor go to London. Justin's frustration and fears continue to grow. Justin communicates with Brian over the internet.
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July 25, 2004