Interval - Or, What Five Years Will Do To Brian Kinney

Dontyouwaitup


Focus: Brian Kinney, and everybody he loves or fucks or whatever they're calling it these days.
Summary: My first QaF fic. Just a little bit of fucking with Brian's head, I guess. Read it, and if you like it, rec it, because I'm not sure what QaF community to post it in. Haha.


*****************

Brian is hanging from the monkey bars by his knees, blood rushing to his head, shirt slipping down, so he sees the kid upside-down before he sees him right-side-up. Perhaps that’s what makes the difference.

Just this pudgy twitchy kid sitting in the sand underneath the jungle gym reading a comic book, and Brian sees him upside-down before he sees him right-side-up.

He drops down from the monkey bars, crawls through the tangle of the jungle gym, and the kid looks up just as Brian sits down across from him.

“I don’t have lunch money,” he says, and it’s so typical, like a line from a movie. “But I got milk money, if-.”

“Don’t be a pussy,” Brian says, and he’s nine years old but he knows these words by heart. Shit cunt bitch and shut the fuck up, he hears them spewing from his father’s mouth every day and they’re just words and he’ll say them if he wants to. “Why are you reading at recess? Don’t you know anything?”

“It’s the new Captain Astro,” the kid says, looking at him with tiny dark eyes, measuring him and analyzing, careful careful. Brian stares back at him with his mouth hanging open a little, daring the kid to say something, to ask a question. He thinks about taking the milk money for a minute, just because he can. Then the teachers are calling them all in to go practice times tables, and Brian’s the smartest kid in school but nobody knows it yet.

They will.

Brian’s mother is late picking him up from school, or maybe she just forgot again, forgot he exists, and his cunt older sister isn’t going to show up either, because she’s just discovered her tits and is obsessed with showing them to every guy in the ninth grade who wants to invite her over after school. Brian is nine years old but he knows these things because he listens, because he’s smart and nobody knows it yet.

And then that kid walks by with his head down, his backpack hiked up and that comic book still pressed to his chest. “Hey,” Brian says, “Where you going?”

The kid winces, and Brian wonders why he’s scared all the time. “My mom works at the Liberty Diner,” he says in a tiny voice. “I gotta go. If I’m late she worries, and smacks me on the head.” And then -. “You could come. She gives me free lemon bars. She’ll give you one too. Uh – maybe. If you’re polite, and if she likes you.”

Brian shrugs, says, “Guess it’s better than going home, anyway. I’m Brian.”

“I’m Michael,” the kid says, his knuckles all white on the comic book.

“So who the fuck is Captain Astro, Mikey?” Brian says, and they fall into step, their paces matching even though Brian is taller and skinnier and longer.

“He’s the greatest superhero in the world,” Michael says, “and you better not say that word in front of my mom.”

“Can I see?” Brian asks, so Mikey hands him the issue, and then that’s it -- for the rest of his life or at least the next thirty years Brian Kinney pretends to give a shit about comic books.

-


“So,” Mikey says as they’re stealing extra lemon bars, rushing out of the diner with their pockets full, because they’re fourteen and they’re so badass it hurts. “So, Kathy Miller’s kinda hot, huh?”

Brian rolls his eyes. “Sure, Mikey, whatever you say.”

Mikey furrows his brow, says, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean, asshole?” and then looks behind him to make sure his mother didn’t hear him say it.

“You know what it means,” Brian says, checking his reflection in the store windows, pulling his shirt tighter across his stomach. “Here, take this lemon bar. I don’t want it.”

Mikey grabs it, takes a big bite out of it even though he’s still got that baby chub clinging to him. “You’re not fat, Brian,” he says, spitting crumbs as he talks.

“I know that,” Brian says. “Obviously.”

They’re supposed to do their homework after school, and Michael’s still scared of his mother and everyone, so they do. Every day, it’s the same, they sit on Mikey’s bed with all their books and paper and Brian finishes all his homework first before he starts helping Michael. “It’s the Pythagorean theorem, Mikey, not fucking rocket science,” Brian is saying. He’s not nice about it, ever, but he always helps, fills in the variables and fills in the proofs. “Okay, so, for the last fucking time, you plug in this number for A-.”

“What’d you mean before,” Michael says, interrupting, and it’s like Debbie says, how his heart is huge and it makes up for his brain. She was kidding. Brian isn’t. “About Kathy Miller.”

He’s got this innocent, blank look on his face, like he’s never heard of sex or anything, even though Brian knows he spends more time jerking off than he spends reading comic books, and that shouldn’t even be possible. Brian wonders what Mikey would say if he told him - right now - about the gym teacher, about soaking his khakis on the floor of the shower stall, wrapping his mouth around that cock and sucking and pulling and licking, about laughing afterward and walking home drenched, tasting come on his tongue until dinner.

“You know what I mean,” Brian says, “Now will you finish your fucking geometry so we can go do something?” Brian wants to light things on fire, wants to burn things down and laugh about it later without making a sound. Brian wants to blow things up and crush things and run around screaming punching kicking hitting. Brian is pissed off and he still can’t remember why; all he knows is that it’s not his fault and it’s not Mikey’s fault so it must be everyone else’s.

Mikey won’t meet his eyes, and he’s being twitchy again. “I don’t know what you mean, jerkoff.”

So Brian leans forward, knee on the geometry book, pages tearing, and kisses Mikey right on the mouth, hard. He’s fourteen but he knows these things by heart because he’s smart as fuck and he’s not scared, not like Mikey. Mikey’s fucking terrified and he tries to push Brian away at first but Brian won’t let him, grabs the back of his neck and licks at his mouth until Mikey’s making all these little oh-oh-oh noises, until Mikey opens up his mouth a tiny bit, and then Brian stops because he’s smart as fuck, smart enough not to fuck things up.

“You don’t think Kathy Miller’s hot,” Brian says. It’s a challenge, like a dare, eyebrows raised and lips wet and parted.

Michael rolls off the bed, trips toward the door, toward the bathroom like he’s going to vomit all the lemon bars up on Debbie’s green bathroom rug. Brian is quicker though, grabs him by the arm and yanks him roughly back down, says, “Hey, Mikey, it’s okay.”

Michael’s trembling, his chubby arm quivering under Brian’s grip, and he won’t look up.

“Hey,” Brian says, his voice softer, almost a whisper. “Hey, Mikey. Mikey, hey.” Finally Michael looks up, with those dark eyes that Brian saw upside-down before he saw right-side-up, and Brian says, “I don’t think Kathy Miller’s hot, either, okay?” He grins, licks his lips, smiles in shades of the man he'll become. The man he is already becoming.

“Yeah,” Michael says, “okay.”

“So stop acting like some scared little faggot and do your homework so we can go do something,” Brian says. He hears it every day; it’s just a word and he’ll use it if he wants to. “So, the Pythagorean theorem.”

-


“Fucking faggot,” Brian’s roommate hisses on the second night of sophomore year, fists full of Brian’s best porn, and just because the kid was frustrated (no woman would want to fuck him, and Brian couldn’t blame them) doesn’t give him the right to go digging through Brian’s shit.

“Better that than fucking pussy,” Brian says, his jaw set, his shoulders squared. He means it, too, in every sense, and for a moment he wants to fight, feels the fury climbing up in his blood.

“Hey,” someone says from behind him, from the hallway. It’s Lindsay, sweater tied around her shoulders and blonde hair braided down to her waist, all country-club colors and innocent eyes and Brian barely knows her, doesn’t know what she’s doing there. “There’s a party. I thought maybe-.”

“Yeah,” Brian says, tension in his shoulders releasing, and he slams the door in his roommate’s face.

Lindsay winces but shakes it off. “Come on, then.” They’re in the same design class, and they sit together because he knows layouts, colors and lines, but she knows beauty; she complements him, fills in his empty spaces. She will do it for the rest of his life, for longer than thirty years or sixty.

“Fuck the party,” Brian says, “I don’t want beer. You got anything-.”

“Sure,” she says, filling in spaces, “in my room, I do.”

They’re drunk off of her expensive vodka and she is all warm and sad and soft against him, sitting on the floor by her bed. There’s a towel stuffed underneath the door but the scent of the weed is fading, so it’s just Lindsay: expensive vodka, expensive perfume, braid coming undone and cashmere slipping against his cheek. “So, how did you know?” she says. “For sure, I mean, that you were gay.”

There’s a picture on Lindsay’s desk, from her prom, her and some asshole in country-club colors. Brian barely knows her but he’s jealous, wishes he could’ve taken her to prom instead of the girl he took – the one with the braces, the one he ditched to go grind against Mikey at Babylon.

“Don’t be pathetic, Linds.” But she’s still looking at him like he’s got answers, so he shrugs. “Because I like fucking guys,” Brian says.

Lindsay blushes, hard, and Brian keeps talking, all these words because they’re just words and he’ll use them if he wants to.

“Their asses,” he says, giggling against her shoulder, “all tight and warm around my-.”

“Jesus, Brian,” she says, smacking his shoulder. “Stop it.” And all they’ve ever talked about are colors and lines, curves and beauty, and this is the same as that except different.

“I’m good at it, too,” he says, and he tells her about the gym teacher, about how that man stared at Brian until the day he graduated – tells her about the T.A. he fucked last year, when he was just a goddamn freshman.

“Jesus, Brian,” she says again, only it’s different this time, and she looks sad, warm and sad and this is who Lindsay is, this is who she’ll always be. “My parents, they think – I mean, they said…”

“Hey,” he says, “fuck your parents.” He doesn’t get it, why people stress over these things, why everyone can’t just say ‘fuck the world’ the way that he can. So he says it: “Fuck the world, Lindsay.”

“Sounds like you’re doing just that,” she says, drunk and high and soft as cashmere. “Or at least half of it.”

He doesn’t know what makes him do it, but he’s learning that he’s smart as fuck and sometimes he’s just smart enough to fuck things up.

So he pushes his hand underneath her skirt, opens his mouth against her neck, and he might be a faggot but he knows the mechanics of it all, knows what the moisture against his fingers means and knows those noises – oh-oh-oh noises, nothing like the gym teacher or the TA or any of the guys at Babylon, but maybe a little bit like Mikey on his bed with Patrick Swayze in the magazine.

Warm and sad with something a little wrong with it, the kind of love that Brian has to believe in because it’s there, because he can see it.

-


“How the fuck are you going to afford this place?” Michael is whining because Michael is always fucking whining.

“I can afford it,” Brian says. “Now stop fucking whining.”

“But how?”

The entire loft is empty. There’s the kitchen counter, and there’s the bed, but there’s no furniture. Brian likes the empty space; the hard wood, the stainless steel. He likes imagining the way he’ll fill it up. Clean lines, pristine white, careful light.

“Come do a line,” he says, because the floor is so smooth he can do lines off of it, and there’s an entire gram of coke just spilled there, split up. Clean lines, pristine white.

Mikey sprawls out beside him and takes the rolled up bill. His eyes water a little, because it’s good shit – Brian can afford it – and then he says “So are we going?”

“Are you done whining?”

“Fuck you.”

“Then we’re going.”

Mikey always calls it the thumpa-thumpa, the way that Babylon pounds around them, pulses and breathes and beats. “Like a heart,” Brian says; he’s fucked up, turned on, pushing himself roughly against Mikey’s hips. They’re above the crowd, they’re twenty-four and flying, fucking superheroes or super fucking faggots.

“Like you’d know anything about having a heart,” Mikey says, so Brian grabs him and kisses him and says love-you-love-you-always-have-always-will, with his tongue if not actually out loud. Mikey blushes red and his hands falter around Brian’s hips, fingers hooking in belt loops and then releasing, grabbing on and letting go.

Emmett and Ted are hovering by the bar, being fucking pathetic, and they’re Mikey’s friends, really, not Brian’s, because Brian doesn’t have time for friends. He’s got a heart, he does, but it’s all filled up with Michael and Lindsay, with maybe a little room for Debbie because he likes the way she says listen, you little fucker, you little shit. Likes the way she knows that they’re just words – she’ll use them if she wants to – though he’d never admit that to her, ever.

Brian’s been staring down this broad-shouldered jock type all night, watching him over Michael’s left shoulder, and he snorts a good bump out of the bullet and then gives it to Michael. “Have fun,” he says, and while Mikey’s filling the capsule Brian leaves him alone, drops down into the crowd and fists his hand up in the jock’s shirt. “You coming?” he says.

The back room smells like sex and semen and that cheap chemical cocaine smell. Brian kisses the guy hard, fucking his mouth with his tongue, all spit and lips curling. He’s pulling a condom out of his pocket when the guy says, “You don’t have to, I mean, if you’re clean.”

At Debbie’s house, Vic is losing weight and growing smaller every day. Brian stops by sometimes - not like he has a choice, since Michael still hasn’t grown the balls to move out of his mother’s house. Vic always smells like vomit and sweat but when Brian shows up he always kisses him on both cheeks, feeling sagging skin giving away beneath his lips.

Debbie is planning this huge trip, like a fucking party before Vic dies, and Brian sometimes hears them when they’re talking about it. He listens to the way Vic says, “Sure, sis, Paris sounds perfect.” Those are the moments that Brian Kinney understands his own weaknesses, even if he won’t say them out loud. If Brian was Vic he’d have offed himself ages ago, slit his fucking wrists and watched that infected old blood drain out. Brian knows that – Michael knows that, and Linds – and so he understands that he is not the strongest man in the world. He just wouldn’t ever say it out loud.

“You,” Brian tells the jock in the back room, “are a fucking idiot.” And he’s not really in the mood to fuck anymore, even with the whiskey and vodka and trail mix drowning in his blood (clean blood, young). The back room smells like mortality and Brian can’t breathe, can’t handle the pounding.

Brian can’t tell the difference between the thumpa-thumpa of Babylon and the thumpa-thumpa of his own heart.

“Come on, Brian,” Mikey says, finding him easily because he’s memorized the way that Brian takes up space. “You’re fucking tweaked out and I’ve got the early shift at the Big Q tomorrow, come on.”

Emmett and Ted help Michael spill Brian into the passenger seat of the new Jeep, all gooey and boneless and heartless as he sinks down against the leather. Emmett says, “There you go, baby,” and Ted chuckles good-naturedly, because neither of them knows Brian well enough to understand what a fucking asshole he really is. Yet.

“Motherfuckers, stop fucking groping me,” Brian says, because they should know – they should know what a fucking asshole he really is – for their own good, they should know.

Mikey rolls all the windows down so that the cool air can rush in, can sober them up as they drive up Liberty Avenue toward Brian’s new loft, his new loft with just a bed and a floor smooth enough to blow coke off of. Brian slips sideways in his seat and then he slips some more, nestles up under Mikey’s arm and crawls across him.

The wind is rushing in and Brian presses his ear against Mikey’s chest and hears it. “Thumpa-thumpa,” he says; then he laughs, cracks up and howls it out into the wind rushing past. “Thumpa-motherfucking-thumpa!” Like it’s an anthem, like it’s a promise.

Like it’s the last one he’ll ever make.

-


Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.

“I don’t believe in love. I believe in fucking.”

They’re just words, he’ll use them however the fuck he wants to use them because he’s Brian fucking Kinney.

It’s not until he’s back upstairs kicking Mr. Goodfuk out that he realizes how defensive it sounded, how much like a wall those words are. “A minimum of bullshit,” he’d said, and then that stupid fucking kid’s whole goddamn face had crumbled and now Brian can’t stop thinking about Lindsay’s son. About how if anyone ever made Gus’s face crumble like that Brian would tear them apart, rip them into a hundred pieces.

Brian loves Lindsay in this fiercely protective way. She’s the only reason that he can understand why men love women, though he’d never admit that. And when he saw that baby for the first time, all bright around the edges from E and coke and whatever the fuck else was in his trail mix, he knew he loved him, too. Gus. Just because Lindsay is in that kid and Brian loves Lindsay. Loves her and believes in that love; fiercely, protectively.

Lindsay is going to get hurt by her stupid cunt girlfriend. Brian knows this because he’s smart as fuck and he already hates her – Melanie – even though she hasn’t done anything wrong yet, other than being an impossible twat in general.

The blonde kid, the one-night-stand that wouldn’t quit, the little asshole that could – he’s all wide-eyed innocence. Brian doesn’t think he ever had that (except when he was seeing things upside-down before he saw them right-side-up, and maybe not even then). And now this kid is willing to get rid of it all, to tear it off like underwear, because he thinks he loves Brian.

Love love love love love, it’s just a fucking word, and Brian’s only ever said it to Michael. They were fourteen, the first time, two days after Patrick Swayze and blue balls all the way home. Brian had told Mikey about the gym teacher, finally. He’d gone into magnificent fucking detail and when he’d looked up he’d expected to see Mikey laughing, or at least blushing, but instead Mikey was pale and looked like he was going to puke all over the new Captain Astro. “Hey, hey, Mikey,” Brian had said, wrapping his arms around his friend. “I’ll always love you best,” he’d said. “Always have, always will,” he’d said.

Brian is smart as fuck, and he damn well knows it’s not the last time he’s going to see that kid. He remembers the night Gus was born, and the kid saying, “I’m going with him.” He’d said it in that seventeen-year-old drama queen voice, stubborn and bratty and smart as fuck. Smart enough to fuck things up, like Brian, and smart enough to fix them – which Brian had never cared to do. That kid isn't going to give up on Brian. He's not sure how he feels about that.

Brian is obsessed with numbers: weight, and money, but mostly time. Time is the most fucking important thing in the world right now because he’s running out of it, because death is getting closer. He’d never say it out loud but he knows exactly how many days there are until he turns thirty, knows exactly how old Vic was when he started to get thinner and smaller and frailer, knows the odds and no matter how safe he is the odds still aren’t perfect.

So he counts time, measures his days: this much for work, this much for play, and much less for sleep. He doesn’t have the time to waste on that shit.

So the kid shows up again, all skin and stretch, glitter in his hair and narrow hips swiveling. The kid shows up and pretends he doesn’t notice Brian is there.

When he first draws the two guys away from Brian, Brian waits for the fury to climb up inside of him: the fear, the panic that he might be getting old, that thirty may have crept in early. The fury (rage) doesn’t come, so Brian just pushes between, grinds against, pulls in. “Fuck the world,” he thinks as he ducks his head, puts his forehead against the kid’s, but mostly he’s thinking about fucking him into next week. This kid-

Justin. Justin makes time go faster, and Brian fucking hates that and can’t fucking stop it for the life of him.

The absurdity of the situation, Brian Kinney at a fucking high school prom, doesn’t escape him. He loops the scarf around his shoulders and pushes through the doors. He remembers that night in Lindsay’s bedroom, her prom photos, how he’d wished he could have been there. He thinks about Debbie teaching him and Mikey how to dance before their first homecoming. The one where Brian spiked the punch and lit the streamers on fire and got suspended for a week.

Somehow, he doesn’t think this is what Debbie had in mind, as he pulls Justin up against him and swings him back like a pendulum – tick tick tick tick – and crushes his mouth down against his.

This is the part where the story should have ended; fade to black like in the old movies his mother used to get drunk and fall asleep in front of.

-


In the hospital, Brian tastes Babylon burning on his tongue. They say, “We’ll give you a minute,” and suddenly Brian doesn’t have anything to say that will make a difference.

He’s always been good with words: with using them to manipulate the masses, with creating catch phrases… mostly, he’s good at holding them back, when he wants to.

Michael is about to go into surgery, and Brian realizes that he’s all out of words that matter. He wants to say, “Always have, Mikey, always will,” but the words burn up in his mouth and he ducks out of the hospital room.

Debbie looks small in the hospital chapel, tiny even with her gaudy jewelry and her fucking ugly wig, and Brian thinks warm and sad, thinks for an unexpected moment that she’s beautiful. She is making demands of God, using the word “fuck” in a prayer because Debbie fucking Novotny is smart as fuck and she knows that words are just words. Brian thinks about the first time he met her, with her dishwater blonde hair falling straight around her face – before the wig and the pins and the t-shirts, but not before the voice (“Jesus Christ,” she’d said, “You’re a skinny little fucker. Have two lemon bars, right now, and I’ll get you a milkshake.”).

This is the way that Brian Kinney measures time; this is the way that he loses track of it.

It’s like no time has passed at all when he gets back to Liberty Avenue. The lights are all blue and red and he feels the words pounding in his mouth (thumpa-thumpa) before he even sees Justin. He knows what he’s going to say before he says it.

It’s not like he hasn’t said it before, because he has, just not out loud. “I care about him,” he’d said to Jennifer, with a tennis ball in his fist and dried blood and silk beneath his shirt. He said it with a fucking computer and with a scarf and with a television commercial, with a hundred dollars dropped into a violin case and an empty drawer and with all the promises he never made, rules that he never broke.

“Love you,” he says, and he’s shaking and freezing even though everything around him is burning up.

Justin exhales hard, grins like their whole world hasn’t just exploded, and Brian finally gets it, gets that words are never just words. Brian is smart as fuck and he knows in that moment that he’s going to fight to keep this man.

Later, he’ll look back and realize that in that moment, he also knew that he was going to lose him.

-


Brian Kinney turns forty years old in a hospital room that smells like sweat and vomit. He’s here because he won’t leave Michael alone, and Michael is here because Ben Bruckner is dead.

Brian turns forty and nobody notices, including himself, because time doesn’t matter any more. Five years have passed in a blur of highway lines and phone calls and losing touch, mostly, losing and forgetting what it felt like to be touched. They are standing in the hospital, with Michael clinging to Brian and Brian squeezing so hard that Michael can’t breathe enough to sob. The words “time of death” keep echoing around the room. Like the time is what matters.

Debbie wails and throws her arms around her son – her sons, because Brian is there too, pressed against all the soft space she takes up and inhaling that old clinging smell of lemon bars and powder. “Fucking Christ,” she keeps saying, “fucking Christ.” Brian can hardly hear her, with all her volume, because Mikey is whispering “no, no, no,” in this tiny voice that’s flooding Brian’s ears.

Brian thinks, Always have, always will, but he doesn’t say it out loud because the words don’t mean shit. Always is fucking bullshit, eternity is never long enough, and Brian is finally fucking smart enough to know that it’s not about time so much as it is about distance.

Hunter says, “Fuck this shit,” and kicks the machine, sending sparks. Brian will pay for it, later, signing a check while Mikey is making funeral arrangements. Hunter is twenty-three and he’s like a new version of Brian, a version who likes pussy: he wants to burn shit down, blow shit up, crush it and run around screaming. He’s learning about his mortality, seeing his future in front of him, hating it and thinking about measuring time.

“Come here, you little twat,” Brian says, and the kid doesn’t want to move but Brian is strong and pulls him in, tucks Hunter against Michael, presses the kid’s hand to Michael’s heart. Then he steps back from these people (his family, he reminds himself, and even though it’s a lie it’s the truest thing he knows) and thinks: thumpa-thumpa.

Brian calls Emmett and Ted, says “Get the fuck over here, you assholes, where the fuck are you?”

And then he calls Lindsay. “Hey, Daddy,” Gus says, when he answers. “Please don’t fucking tell me…”

Gus is ten years old and he knows these words by heart. Brian is going to teach him about words, about how to use them, but not about how to hold them back, because Gus will learn that himself. “Sonny boy,” Brian says, “Put your mother on the phone, would you?” And then-. “Hey, Gus, I love you.”

Gus puts Melanie on, and Brian says, “Time of death: eight-fucking-oh-three.”

Mel says, “Jesus, Brian. We’ll be on the first flight.” Distance is the thing that matters, having less of it, having as little of it as possible.

It’s been three years since he last spoke to Justin, at a motel in Trenton where they clawed at each other and then screamed at each other. On the way home, Brian had gotten trashed and driven his car into a tree. Michael had come to meet him in the middle of the night, predictable and reliable and all of that shit that Brian couldn’t be.

Justin answers the phone with a curt: “Taylor.”

Brian smirks for a moment and then he says, “Hey.”

There’s a pause. “Brian?”

“Come home,” Brian says, and it’s all he has to say because Justin was the smart one all along.

Nobody knows what to say to Michael. Words fall short and Brian wants to touch him but it feels wrong until Mikey turns to him, later that night when they’re all at Debbie’s house. He buries his face in Brian’s shirt and they stand there in Michael’s bedroom hanging onto each other. “I feel like I’m upside-down,” Mikey says.

When Lindsay finally gets there, she says all the right things. That is to say she says whatever the fuck comes into her mind but she says it in soft tones that speak of country-club colors. Brian loves her as she whispers hope into Hunter and light into Mikey, loves her as he hugs his son.

“Life’s a bitch,” Gus says.

“No shit, kid,” comes a familiar voice, and when Brian looks up Justin is coming through the door with his fucking messenger bag and his t-shirt and a streak of green paint on his jeans. If you ignore the tiny lines sketching out from the corners of his eyes (Justin is twenty-eight, and he’s already got lines from smiling, and he doesn’t give a fuck), it’s like no time has passed at all.

Justin touches everybody else first. Michael, who is clinging to J.R. like she’s his lifeline, says, “Thanks for coming,” and hugs Justin hard, like he means it, like all is forgiven. It occurs to Brian that there isn’t anything left to forgive, that all the petty fights and jealousies have died before their time.

Justin says, “Hey, remember me?”

“Sure, Justin. I’m not, like, retarded," Gus says. His hair is too long, curling around his ears but his eyes are still big big big. Brian wonders what the kids at school say about Gus's two moms, then figures that Gus probably doesn't give a fuck. He gets that from his one dad.

Lindsay says, “Gus, don’t use that word,” and Brian murmers, “Let him use whatever fucking words he wants.” Linds glares and smiles at the same time because she still loves Brian best.

Then Justin says, “Hi, Brian.”

They’re just words, he’ll use them however he fucking wants. “Sunshine,” Brian nods.

The truth is, Brian really fucking hates being forty. He still fucking hates time running out, still believes in honesty and efficiency over empty promises. He still doesn’t make promises that he won’t keep, doesn’t trust people or even like them very much. There still isn’t any fucking room left in his heart for any more people to come into it. He likes it that way.

Later, when things are slowing down and Debbie can’t cry anymore, she says, “Sunshine, you want me to make up the bed in your old room?” Like he’s still seventeen, some scared kid needing a place to crash.

Justin meets Brian’s eyes and he is not seventeen at all, not even a little bit (the way that Brian is still a little bit nine and upside-down, a little bit fourteen and angry, a little bit nineteen and lost, a little bit twenty four and reckless, and a lot thirty and fucking terrified). “No thanks, Deb,” he says, “I’m going with him.”

That night, Brian keeps driving past the loft, straight to the highway and thirty minutes out of Pittsburg to the ridiculous house he never had any fucking intention of selling. Justin is in the passenger seat and the windows are down and Brian’s old heart is pounding in his chest: tick-tick-tick, it goes, and oh-oh-oh, and thumpa-thumpa.

End