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Thank you to my wonderful beta, Darren. I heart you. And to my new beta, Alan
Grieve. Also, BIG thanks to Lidia, Mia, Jule, Krissy, Kacie, Cindy, Amanda,
and all the readers! You rock my world.
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1. The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret
I walk up to the door hesitantly, and pause before knocking. It’s not that I’m afraid to go in, I’m just slightly worried that everyone will be too damn nice to me like they have been lately. And then… if Brian shows up, well I don’t even want to think about all the whispering conjectures. All the tension, and absurdity. What the hell. I’m not staying out here. So, I knock.
“Sunshine!,” exclaims Debbie as she opens the door. I step into the house, and she puts a hand to the side of my face, and adds softly, “I’m so glad you decided to come, sweetie.”
“I told you I would,” I smile.
It’s funny how everyone seems to think I’m so fragile after the break-up. First off, it’s been four months. Second, Brian and I are fine. We’re actually friends. But no one knows as much. Yet. If Brian does in fact finish his report in time, tonight will be the first time any of the gang will see us together since that night. It’s bound to produce interesting reactions. Meanwhile, I am forced to endure thinly veiled looks of pity and encouragement, and remarks burning with ‘You’ll make it through this’ sentiment.
Debbie just pats my arm and smiles in response. “Justin’s here!,” she yells towards the kitchen, which is completely unnecessary since it’s only ten feet away, and everyone has already seen me. The tribe is completely assembled it appears. All except Brian.
I settle into a seat between Mel and Emmett.
“Where’s Gus?,” I ask Mel.
“We left him with a sitter. We’re going out after dinner. We needed a break,” she tells me.
“Oh,” I say slightly disappointed, “Maybe I’ll come see him tomorrow.”
“That’d be great. Come by any time after 3:00.”
Something to look forward to. I don’t see Gus enough anymore. Not for the reasons Linds and Mel think. Just that I’ve been really busy. I stop by and take care of him from time to
time, but not half as much as I used to. I miss Gus a lot.
“So, where’s Ethan?,” Emmett asks me.
Shit. Another person I miss a lot. He’s hardly ever around. Well, I’m hardly ever around either. We’ve both been too involved with our respective arts to take too much time for one another. Actually, I think it’s one of the things that keeps us together. I mean, I like Ethan a lot, but at first when we got together we saw each other too much. He was so fucking fantastic every minute of every day, that I couldn’t stand it. I was about ready to kill him, so I just buried myself in my work. Suddenly I was wonderfully inspired. And around the same time, Ethan was inundated with recitals, competitions, practice, and it seemed he too was suddenly inspired to compose. It has been a highly productive last couple of months for both of us.
“He’s in Philadelphia recording a piece with an orchestra,” I reply.
“Wow,” Ted puts in. “That sounds fantastic.”
“Yeah. He’s really excited about it.”
The pre-dinner chit-chat continues for about fifteen minutes, before Deb pipes up, “Should we start?”
“I don’t know,” Michael states, pausing momentarily to give me his version of a discreet look. “I’m not sure if Brian’s gonna make it. He’s not answering his phone.”
I don’t say anything, because Brian didn’t say for a fact that he was coming. There was no need to open my mouth merely to concur with Mikey.
“Well, we can wait ten more minutes. Then he’s screwed,” Deb retorts with a signature ‘that fuckin’ Kinney’ look.
“So, Justin, are you working on any new pieces?,” Lindsay asks.
“Yes, actually. I just started-,” I’m cut off by the ringing of my cel phone. “Sorry,” I say to Linds, looking at the call display. Brian. I feel myself smirking.
“How’s the slaughter coming along?,” he asks in a playful tone.
“Surprisingly well. Not too much slaughtering,” I smile.
“Good,” Brian muses. “Just imagine the awkwardness we’re about to endure once I walk in the door.”
“So you ARE coming,” I state without heed.
“I am. I am,” he says in a bored manner. “I said I would,” he echoes my earlier response to Deb. This makes me smile again.
“Good,” I say. “Where are you?”
“Patience young one. I’m walking out of the loft as we speak. Stall the proceedings.”
“What should I say?”
“Say, ‘Brian is coming. Wait for him.’ You aren’t very bright after all,” he jokes.
“Fuck you. I just didn’t know how secretive you wanted to be.”
“Well I’m going to be there in about 10 minutes. What the fuck does ‘secretive’ have to do with anything?”
“Oh, fuck off. You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, Sonny Boy. I know what you mean. I’ll be there shortly.”
“All right. Hurry,” I add, hanging up the phone.
I put my cel phone back in my pocket, and look up to find the whole group staring at me. Of course. They were listening to my every word. Might as well get it over with.
“Brian’s coming. He should be here in like ten minutes.”
Silence was maintained for almost a solid minute before Michael spoke.
“Brian called YOU?”
Typical. Michael can be such a common idiot sometimes. We’ve been getting along lately too. We patched things up around the same time I patched things up with Brian. I think perhaps Brian had something to do with it. Inadvertently. As always. Of course, Mikey’s always had those random pangs of jealousy towards me where Brian is concerned. With obvious reason. I don’t think he wants Brian to fuck him anymore, but he still thinks he has some ultimate claim to him. As many times as he tries to convince me that Brian loves me, it’s still as if he himself doesn’t quite believe it. Or he doesn’t want to.
“Yeah,” I finally state simply. I’ll play nice.
“Well, I guess we can wait a bit longer,” Debbie says trying to break the tension. She looks over at Vic, begging him with her eyes to change the subject.
“It’s a good thing I stayed awake for this one,” he blurts out.
Laughter erupts around the table, and I feel so silly right now. I plaster on a half-smile which I’m sure advertises my discomfort, and I look at Mikey, who is the picture of disgruntled. His scowl almost makes me laugh too.
Wonderful. Wonderful to have to feel so fucking silly, and awkward when there’s absolutely nothing the matter. This is precisely what I’ve been trying to avoid. And, I think Brian agrees with me. Kind of not clueing anyone in that we get along just so we can try to maintain this new friendship without anyone standing over us saying this and that, and scaring us off. Running us away. They help every once in a while, but usually they just make it worse.
Lindsay is kind enough to remember her earlier inquiry, and she gets me talking about my latest art pieces.
Soon enough, time has zoomed by, and low and behold, Brian comes barging in without knocking.
“I’m fucking starving,” he says, sighing dramatically and grabbing a chair.
“Hey!,” everyone bursts out at once looking at him expectantly.
He looks over the crowd with a skeptical expression on his face, and finally his eyes settle on me. I’m sure that by now, I’m looking like I want to disappear. Luckily he catches on.
“Justin, can I talk to you for a second?,” he asks me.
“Sure.” I shoot out of my seat, and make for the backdoor. Brian follows me out, amidst the gaping faces, full of confusion.
I can just imagine them inside. ‘Does anyone know what’s going on?’ ‘When did they patch things up?’ ‘Has anyone seen them together?’ ‘Are they fucking?’ ‘Are they back together?’ ‘Were they ever together in the
first place?’ ‘What about Ethan?’ And no one has the answers.
I let out a long breath, that I’d been holding.
“What’s wrong?,” Brian asks placing his hand on the back of my neck.
I can’t stand these familiar gestures sometimes. I like him touching me like everything’s okay, but it also saddens me a bit. It makes me want more. God. He looks so fucking hot tonight. Of course he always does. He’s only wearing a red T-shirt, and black jeans, but damn. It’s enough for him. Enough to make him irresistible. I hate that about him sometimes. I mean, sometimes I think that he’s too sexy. Too easy to want. Too easy to fuck. Sometimes I wish he looked more average. Just a tad. Maybe that would make this easier. Maybe.
“Nothing,” I tell him, pausing. “I mean nothing is wrong, but they just make me feel like something’s wrong.
Like they can’t figure us out, so we have to suffer through their assumptions.”
“They don’t know shit. Don’t let it get to you.”
“I know,” I say honestly. “It’s just that they make me doubt everything.”
“Don’t,” Brian states simply. “They’ve made me doubt everything a thousand times over, but I learned to just stop, because it doesn’t matter. All that matters is you. You know what’s going on. They don’t. End of story. I’ll handle it.”
I have to smile at that, because I know exactly what his methods of handling it are. “By letting them use their imaginations, and think whatever they want?”
“Exactly,” he smiles.
“I’m SO onto you,” I kid him with a shove.
“We knew that a long time ago,” he replies, surprising me. Probably surprised himself to, judging by his expression.
I just smile and giggle a bit. Brian grabs me and hugs me, giving me a fierce kiss on the cheek. He’s just full of surprises tonight.
He pulls away, and grabs my hand, pulling me towards the door, “Come on.”
He opens the door, and holds it open for me. As I walk past him, he swats my ass.
“Hey!” I catch Brian’s mischievous grin. “None of that old man!” I wag my finger at him, trying not to smile.
“So you think,” he says cryptically.
The table is now full of food, and everyone seems to be intrigued by the two of us. They were so obviously talking about us the entire time, because right about now, no one is saying a word. Then I spot two empty chairs right next to one another, just waiting for Brian and I to sit in. Brian gives me a knowing look, and I
laugh, mumbling “How discreet.”
Brian, never missing an opportunity to toy with his friends’ minds, pulls out a chair for me. I roll my eyes at him, and sit down, beginning to look at this situation with Brian’s subtle amusement. This could definitely be fun. Brian finally sits down, and we seem to be the only ones in motion. We fold our napkins in our laps.
“Bon apetite!,” we say in unison. Then we look at each other, and laugh wholeheartedly. It was as if we had a script, when in fact it was just a small silly tradition we’d shared over our year of living together. We’d mastered saying it together after less than a month.
Don’t know what the hell brought us to say it just now. I guess it’s just habit with us. I’ve never said it with anyone else. Especially not Ethan. Everyone is probably wondering what the hell is going on.
“What the hell is going on?,” Deb demands loudly, interrupting our fit of giggles. I snap my head to the left to look at her, and decide that Brian should do the talking. I poke him in the ribs to let him know.
“It’s just this thing we do. Pay no attention,” he says airily. I can’t believe how nonchalant he’s being. The last couple of weeks, Brian seemed to be more upbeat than he’d ever seen him. Well, at least in a long time. There was a period months and months ago, when Brian was in a great mood for weeks. Right before he made partner. It seemed like everything was going better than good up until then. I shake my head a bit to try and forget those memories. The last thing I want to do is think about that shit right now. Brian has been happy lately, and tonight seems to be the apex of his good mood.
“Cut the bullshit!,” Deb’s voice slices through his thoughts. She wags her finger at Brian. “You know what I mean. What’s with the sudden chumminess?”
“Why Deb, I don’t believe that’s any of your business,” he declares in his mocking tone. I can’t help but cackle at that.
“Don’t you fuckin’ laugh at me, Sunshine! I’ll string you up by your balls!” Now Brian starts laughing.
“What the hell are you two being so secretive about?”
“We’re not being fucking secretive about anything!,” Brian half-yelled. “It’s no one’s business anyway. Find something else to talk about!”
“Honey,” Emmett leans in, “Ain’t nothin’ as interesting as you two to talk about.”
“Oh sure there is,” Brian counters. “Tell us all about those two hot guys you fucked at the baths the other night.”
“I didn’t fuck any guys at the baths,” Emmett says, confused.
“Oh yeah,” Brian replies, “That was me.”
I snort, and laugh again as Brian launches into a way-too-graphic-for-the-dinner-table tale that I’ve already heard, with less details, about two buff guys in their early twenties that bottomed out for Brian at the baths last Tuesday. Everyone just ate, and looked either disgusted or excited, and they were probably thinking that they were wrong after all.
After dinner, Brian asks me if I need a ride home. I got dropped off by Daphne.
“Yeah,” I accept, grabbing my backpack.
“Brian,” Mikey calls as Brian reaches the door.
I turn to see him glaring at Brian with the patented Michael Novotny look of confused wonder and disapproval. Oh how he hates me sometimes. I don’t get him at all. Truly. I mean, we can get along pretty well. I don’t know why the hell he has to get all up in arms about Brian and me all the time. Shit. He’s starting to make me angry all over again. Apparently, Brian isn’t up for an inquisition at the moment.
“Not now, Mikey,” he tosses out. He looks at me, imploring me to hurry up and get out of there. I turn and say bye to everyone, and make my way to the door. As I walk past Brian, he gives me another swat on the ass, before turning to wave. “Happy gossip time!,” he exclaims sarcastically, closing the door behind him.
In the car I burst out laughing.
“What?,” he asks with an amused smile.
“It’s just funny how everything always has to be drama.”
“We’re fags with undeniably complicated lives. It’s drama central, baby. What do you expect?”
“Nothing. I just find it all pretty hilarious.”
Brian laughs then. “It is fucking funny. We should laugh about our shit more often.”
“Yeah. It would be a nice alternative,” I say a bit more seriously than I intended.
It’s weird thinking about all these things, and even kind of talking about them with Brian. I mean we always know what we’re really talking about whether we admit it or not. Lately, we’ve been stumbling into these kinds of conversations where we almost talk about us, but not really. He’s right. We are too complicated. He changes the subject.
“It’s too goddamn early to go home. You interested in hitting the clubs with your old flame?”
“Did you just call yourself old?” I can’t resist teasing him.
“Fuck you, kid. You know what I meant,” he smirks.
I laugh a bit, and think about it. It’s fine being friends with Brian. At least at the moment. However, seeing him pick up tricks has never been high on my list of fun activities, and it still isn’t. I hesitate a bit too long.
“I promise to be good,” he assures me.
That means ‘I won’t go out of my way to pick up any guys’, in Brian-speak.
“Okay.” I give in easily once he removes my doubt.
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