Ben takes Justin on a camping trip in the desert. Brian deals with the aftermath.
* * * * * * * * *
Justin leaves for two weeks.
It's not a big deal.
Brian raises an eyebrow, kisses Justin on the forehead, and mutters something about he'll have to find someone else for blowjobs until he gets back.
Justin decides he doesn't care that Brian doesn't want to know what he's up to or where he's going, so he doesn't explain.
Besides, Michael knows the details, and eventually it will come out that Justin is going with Ben to an artist Pow Wow in the middle of the New Mexico desert to “Awaken the Artist Within.” At least that’s what is says on the brochure that Justin holds in his hand.
Justin has left it on the kitchen counter, for a couple days now, hoping that Brian might see it and ask the pertinent questions.
Brian does see the brochure, and says nothing about it. In fact, it twists something inside him that makes his palms sweat and he’s not so sure why, but talking about it isn’t an easy solution. Conversations with Justin have a tendency to become personal, and Brian would much rather go out and have a fabulous time at Babylon, instead.
It’s not that he doesn’t care or he isn’t curious, even though Justin sometimes wonders if there’s anything behind the stoic façade. It’s more that if he becomes aware of what Justin is doing, he might actually have to do something about it, like protest or become emotionally involved.
Or worse yet, worry that Justin might secretly be in love with Ben.
It was Ben's idea to take Justin in the first place; his paternal instincts having kicked in two-fold since Hunter moved in. He tells Michael that he's worried about Justin's future. He seems to be wandering around aimlessly, with no direction since the suspension from PIFA, and the kid deserves a better life then waiting tables at the Diner. Michael insists that Justin is fine and that it's Brian's problem, not their’s, but Ben is steadfast in his thinking when he's made up his mind. So, Michael has no choice but to smile, sincerely, like the little house wife he has become, and wish the boys a good trip.
He'll go over to Brian's later and deal with his insecurities in the passive-aggressive way he has become accustomed to. Brian will only half-listen and make snarky comments in the appropriate places. They'll get stoned, eat too much food, get drunk, and eventually, Michael will blunder into tearful proclamations of love for Ben, then accuse Brian of not loving Justin.
Brian won't defend the comment. In fact, he'll ignore it and instead reach
for a second bottle of whisky to drown out Michael's petulant sobs, because
he's not quite sure about how he feels about Justin at the moment. It changes
everyday with the ebb and flow of his moods, and it's not something he'd care
to get into when there's a whole big wide world of cocks out their that need
to be graced with the Kinney touch.
Brian fucks and boozes his way through the week, and it's just like any other week, really, except that in the mornings, he doesn't wake up drooling on a soft pillow of blond hair. The shower is much more spacious now too, and he has to make his own coffee. Although, the latter, he is able to fix with a memo to Cynthia stating that he wants a triple latte in his hand the minute he walks by her desk.
The other two weren't as easy to remedy, and it wasn't that he didn't like the new room he had to move about freely in the shower. It was that it felt odd, like a numbness in his body. It made his stomach tighten and a pang in his chest. He made a note on his calendar to get his yearly check-up. He was sure he'd heard these were the first signs of a heart attack.
When Justin comes back he is different.
He walks through the opening in the loft door and announces his return and something about finding his inner child. Brian is not sure what that is, but it sounds suspiciously dykish, and he's too busy noticing the sudden melon-like roundness of Justin's head, and the absence of the fluffy strands of blond pillow.
Now there is stubble, and it’s not that Brian doesn’t like stubble. Actually he loathes it, but that’s not the problem. He is more annoyed there is no longer a soft place to drool, and it isn’t that he likes drooling either.
It’s just another thing that he can’t get back.
Brian doesn’t like change, so, he nods in Justin's general direction and heads out to the Baths. At least, there, things are status quo.
Justin hardly notices Brian's curtness. It is something that he had learned to live with and figures that it has something to do with work or high fat content. So, he pops a movie into the VCR, and makes himself comfortable on the couch. Eventually he dozes off, until the clang of the loft door crashes in the stillness.
Justin sits up and watches Brian stumble in, propped up between a pair of blond twins, which reminds Justin of a matching pair of bookends. He notices they are both are pale and blue eyed with a mop of tussled white hair on their perfectly identical heads, as they traipse up the stairs to the bedroom.
Justin slides his hand over his sandpaper-like noggin’ and chuckles at
the realization that this is Brian’s non-conventional and somewhat pathetic
way of dealing with his new haircut. He lies back down and is lulled back to
sleep by the moans and groans in the other room.
In the morning, Justin wakes up before Brian and makes coffee like he usually does on those days that he stays over. He searches the cupboard for Brian’s signature black coffee mug and notices that it’s has a ring of dust around it. Justin knows that Brian hasn’t been making coffee at home, and he beams with satisfaction. It’s a small gesture, at best, and it wouldn’t hold any special significance to anyone else, but to Justin it means that Brian doesn’t know how to start his morning ritual without him.
This is the equivalent of love.
Justin washes the mug and pours a cup of coffee. He walks up the stairs to the bedroom and gingerly peeks around the corner to make sure the double mint twins haven’t over-stayed their welcome. To his relief, the bed is empty of all its blondness, and all he can see is the top of Brian’s unkempt chestnut hair poking out the top of the blue sheets. His body is face down and his right arm and right leg are splayed across Justin’s side of the bed. This annoys Justin that Brian has become so comfortable without him, so he puts down the coffee cup on the night stand and pushes Brian’s body over so that there is at least a vacant space where Justin’s body theoretically should be.
Among all the pushing and shoving, Brian opens an eye and wants to know why the fuck he is being woken up, at such an ungodly hour. Justin takes the mug from the nightstand and holds it out to Brian, who rolls over and sits up, groggily. Brian grabs the mug and stares at it for a moment. He’s not quite sure what to do. This isn’t his routine anymore. He knows that Cynthia will be holding a triple latte when he gets to work, and quite frankly her coffee tastes better.
Justin wants to know what’s wrong, because Justin always wants to know what’s going on in Brian’s head, which is irritating to Brian because Brian doesn’t even know what’s going on in Brian’s head half of the time. Emotions and feelings, and all other things dyke elude Brian and he tries not to delve too deeply into topics that have no logical base.
This is why he fucks men, because it’s easy and free of complication. Insert, thrust, repeat, and you leave. Simple, no fuss, no coffee or morning banter. Yet, here he was with a steaming mug in his hands, with a perplexed expression on his face. He wonders how things have become so confusing and messy.
He looks over at Justin, who eyes are round like blue marbles and expectant. He’s waiting for something, validation maybe or acceptance. Brian really isn’t too sure, but he knows the best thing to do right now is to take a sip of the coffee and say something rude like:
“This coffee tastes like shit.”
Justin beams again, this time with acceptance; because that’s what Brian usually says in the mornings, and it means that nothing has changed.
Except it has.
Justin notices Brian staring at his naked head, distastefully. In fact, Brian doesn’t even realize that he’s doing it, until Justin consciously spreads his hand out on top of it and smiles, sheepishly. He averts his eyes and takes another sip, without asking any questions about Justin’s sudden Aliens 3 haircut. He never liked that movie, and secretly suspects that Ripley is a transsexual even though Melanie thinks Sigourney Weaver is a women’s rights icon that should be revered. It’s just another reason for Brian to hate it, and mothers in general.
Justin explains that an Indian Wise Man told him to cut his hair to make the scar on his head more noticeable. It would reflect the pain he has inside on the outside.
He’s not sure what he doesn’t like about this line of conversation, but Justin’s sentence has hit a nerve. So, Brian tells him to shut the fuck up and roll over. Justin has two weeks worth of lost fucking to make up for.
Justin isn’t fooled. He knows a defense strategy when he sees it, and he plays the part of the dutiful fuck buddy.
The rest of the morning goes off without a hitch. The shower becomes more crowded and sticky, which is how Brian likes it, and Cynthia isn’t offended when Brian refuses her coffee. She thanks the Lord that Justin is home because she can’t handle another second of Brian’s moodiness.
Brian doesn’t remember being moody, and chalks the comment up to PMS, because it’s a handy excuse, and true most of the time.
A week goes by and Brian is vaguely aware that Justin hasn't been coming around as often. It's not a singular awareness, but a stream of hit and miss occasions that he strings together like Christmas lights.
It's the large amount of room that he has in the bed, and the ability to turn over at will, the extra amount of time he's spending on the computer, because Justin isn't nagging him about wanting to use the internet.
It's the lack of grey sweat pants and tidy whities that he's not stumbling over in the mornings on his way to the bathroom, and there are no sketch pads strewn about on every flat surface.
Justin has exchanged sketch pads for notebooks, and he keeps them hidden in his book bag, because he’s leary of prying eyes. He scribbles, fervently on lined paper, pushing his pen down hard, while sticking the tip of his tongue between his teeth.
Brian is intrigued by the secrecy, and makes a point to ask Justin what happened to all of his drawings. Justin says that art isn’t doing it for him right now and Ben suggested journaling as a way to purge his inner demons.
Brian bristles, and walks into the bedroom before his facial expression gives him away.
He’s not sure what bothers him the most: Ben or inner demons, and begins to wonder if they are synonymous.
Brian decides he doesn’t believe in inner demons. It’s a frivolous notion that counters the climate controlled environment he has worked so diligently to create for himself. He believes in Southern Comfort. He believes in pot. He believes in the tingling in his balls, when his cock is rammed to the hilt.
He believes in entangling his fingers in soft tufts of white hair.
Justin doesn’t know this, and Brian will never tell him, because some things don’t need to be said.
Actions have always spoken louder than words.
The hair is gone though, and in its place are the hard edges of a scar that fills every corner of every room in the loft, making it hard for Brian to breathe when he’s not distracting himself with his beliefs.
He remembers how oily blood looks on concrete.
Brian is not sure when he blinked and lost control of the situation. His non-reaction to Justin’s buzz cut are breeding reactions that he is unable to explain in any linear context. So, he dims the lights when Justin’s around and prefers to see him in shadows, because the edges are blurred, the scar is not so exposed, and he can almost imagine the way the light refracted in Justin’s eyes before there were inner children or awakenings.
Brian doesn’t dwell on it long, because if he really thought about it, then he’d have to think about other things, like what exactly Justin’s inner demons were, and if somehow, if he did figure it out, he’d feel responsible. Responsibility only bred a compulsion to save or to help.
Or to fix.
Justin hates when Brian tries to fix him, and Brian knows this, so he refrains and peels an apple with a pocket knife instead.
One day, Brian decides he hates Ben.
It’s not a thought, really, because Brian has been doing a lot of non-thinking lately, and would rather keep it that way. Instead, he finds himself doing quirky little things, that boggle him, and he wonders if this is yet another sign of a heart attack. He’s always heard that the mind was first thing to go.
At least, he’d still have his dick, and without short term memory, then Justin couldn’t get mad at him for fucking the same guy twice. Maybe losing his mind wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
Still, there were those times, when he couldn’t quite figure out what exactly he was doing, and it annoyed his inner control freak.
Just yesterday, Brian wandered into an art supply store, haphazardly, en route to the gym. He walked slowly down the aisles, breathing in the comforting smell of brushes, pencils, and paper: rows and rows of it, in its various colors, sizes and functionalities, an origami wet dream. He put down his gym bag and picked up a large sketch pad. Brian gazed at it, longingly, like it held the meaning of life, then flipped the cover over. He glided his hand over the canvas, savoring its course texture: the emptiness of it, white and pristine, without words or lines or enigmatic scrawling.
Justin used to pencil Brian in shades of grey and black, contoured lines sweeping across a blank canvas, composing something from nothing. Justin conceived Brian into a God-like form to live on forever, and Brian suddenly wishes he was immortalized again, instead of being reduced to a man coveting white paper.
He buys the sketch pad, and leaves it on the kitchen island.
The next day, he wanders into Optometrist office, and wonders what he’d look like with glasses.
Justin walks briskly, dodging small puddles on the sidewalk. He has always liked the briskness of mornings after the rain, and the sweet smell of cleanliness that permeates the city streets.
The cold air prickles his scalp, and he rubs his gloved hand, consciously over his scar. He turns and catches his reflection in the window of a cellular phone display. Yes, it’s still there, puffy and red and he can’t help but push his head up closer to the glass and stare at it with dreaded consternation.
Maybe showing the pain on the outside was a bad idea, because he’s beginning to feel like a time bomb. His rage boils like streamlines of quicksilver that move quickly up his veins and overtakes his right hand, in a sporadic series of spastic tics.
The tremors are back. The nightmares. The sweats. The fear.
Notebooks are no longer any solace, but Brian doesn’t want to hear, and Justin knows this from the splotchy purple-blue bruises imprinted on his shoulders and hip bones. It seems he always pays for truth, in some way, and he wishes he could confess to Brian in plain sentences, without reaping the wrath of a thousand fucks in painful positions, without lube or on hardwood floors.
Brian thinks fucking Justin is a connection, a way to let go of the frustration he feels for not being able to fix Justin.
Justin thinks fucking is forgetting, and sometime Justin is envious that Brian has the liberty to forget. So, Justin finds another outlet, beyond sex, because he prefers more direct routes to deal with pain. Management is not an option.
He swings open the door of the Diner with ease, and searches the room. Ben looks up from his book at his usual table, and waves Justin over. They sit for hours, drinking bitter coffee, sweetened with too much sugar, pouring over Justin’s notebooks.
Ben slides his hand across the table and covers Justin’s hand. Their fingers mingle and intertwine, with a natural easiness that can only come from meeting together almost every day for the last two weeks.
To Justin, this is not love. This is freedom.
To Brian this is unsettling, and he digs his balled fists deeper in his black leather jacket. He’s not sure how long he’s been standing there, only that if he dares to move, he might crumble into a thousand jagged pieces. The pang in his chest is back, the labored breathing, and he's sure he’s numb.
This is finally it.
Damn him, for not making that doctor’s appointment.
Ben stand up, hugs Justin goodbye, and Brian counts to ten backwards. Justin feels prying eyes at the back of his head. He turns.
Brian doesn’t move because there’s nothing left to lose, except pride, and integrity, and even Justin is not worth that.
Ben, being a man of good intentions, makes an altruistic move.
He walks the few paces over to Brian. “Have you ever asked him about what happened in the desert?”
Brian stares off into the distance, jaw clenched. Ben lays a hand on Brian’s shoulder. “He needs you right now.”
Brian looks over and burns a hole into Ben with his eyes, “He came to you.”
“Only because you wouldn’t listen.”
Brian flinches like he has been punched in the gut, and falls into the first seat at the counter. He ignores Justin standing there, helplessly, in the walkway, and orders a plate of fries.
Justin sighs in frustration, brushes past him and onward toward the door.
Later, when Justin comes over, only the bathroom light is on, and Justin understands what mood lighting means now.
It’s Brian’s way of showing the pain he has on the inside on the outside.
He also notices the sketch pad, and it angers him, because nothing will ever go back to the way it was.
Justin has had enough of darkened entries and apples. He pulls the notebook from his bag, and takes it to Brian who is stretched out languidly on the bed, slowly peeling a Macintosh.
“Here,” Justin says, in a steely tone, and throws the notebook on the bed.
“I don’t want it,” he says, evenly, not looking up from the long ribbon of reddish skin.
Justin leaves the book there anyway, and starts for the door. Brian knows that this is Justin’s only effective power play, but he learned long ago that Justin will always come back, because Brian made an imprint on him like a barcode. The wistfulness of that first fuck will keep them entangled together until Brian decides to let go.
Still, Brian doesn’t want the notebook sitting there on the bed, with it red cover clashing against the blue duvet. So, he follows Justin into the living room, trading the apple and the pocket knife for lined paper.
“You forgot this,” he says, and holds it out to Justin’s back.
Justin turns around near the door to the loft, and looks at Brian squarely in the eye. “I want you to read it.”
Brian says nothing, still holding the notebook out in front of him. A moment passes between them, that neither can explain. Justin’s blue eyes are glassy and plead with such intensity that Brian almost relents, but then he remembers that sound – thwack- and how he won’t go back to that place, when the structure of his psyche depends the premise that he can forget.
Justin sees the walls come down for a fleeting second. So, he pushes and takes a step forward. He grabs for the notebook, then turns to walk away, but reaching arms pull him in, and squeeze him tightly.
A kiss on the temple is worth more than a thousand words.
The notebook falls to the floor.
Lips meet lips, stomachs press against each other, as cocks dance between the hard edges of button fly’s. Eyes close, softly, eyelids flutter, hands slide between cotton, as skin burns.
Justin leads Brian into softer places between silken sheets. They fuck in slow
motion, savoring the taste of each others skin, nerve endings electric and exposed.
When Brian cums, he cries out, like a wounded animal, and a guttural sob fills
the quiet. Brian drops his head onto Justin’s chest and Justin runs his
fingers through his hair.
When Brian wakes up a few hours later. Justin is sleeping hard, and Brian doesn’t think that anything could wake him up right now. He goes to the kitchen, grabs a bottled water from the fridge and leans against the kitchen island. He notices the cover of the sketch pad is bent, and flips it over.
Brian picks up the drawing with its smudged edges and smiles sincerely for the first time in weeks.
This is the equivalent of love.
On the way back to the bedroom, Brian trips over the notebook that’s still sitting in the middle of the hardwood floor. He picks it up and holds it in his hands for what seems like forever. He goes back into the kitchen, and grabs a bottle of Beam from the cupboard, then sits on the couch and opens the first page.
It’s going to be a long night.