Sleepless

Rachel Anton


Sequel to In September by Laura Blaurosen

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

Once upon a time, Justin thought he wanted to talk. Things would be better for him, he was sure, if only he could find someone willing to listen. Someone who wasn't equally traumatized by what had happened to him. Someone who wouldn't tell him to forget about it like Brian, or start crying like his mother. Then he found Cody, and Cody listened a little too well. Cody listened well enough to hear the twisted up mess inside of him where a normal person used to be, and he forced it to the surface-forced it right out of him, and Justin hated him for it, but he was also a little grateful because after that he didn't want to talk anymore. After that, he wasn't afraid, and the nightmares went away.

Now all he does is talk. Everybody wants to hear the story, and it's his job to tell it. To write it and draw it and think it and sell it and fucking explain it. He's never really had to explain it before. Everybody's always just known.

He didn't think it would bother him this much, telling a bunch of random strangers, repeating the gory details over sushi and appletinis. He didn't realize he would have to answer so many stupid questions, or that scouting out a location for the bashing scene would make him feel claustrophobic and nauseous. He didn't know he was about to become the spokesman for Gay USA, the resident expert on violence against queers, the outspoken mouthpiece for Brett Keller's brave and innovative new film. And never, in a million years, did he expect the nightmares to come back. But they have.

They're not the same ones as before. These are new and improved- strange amalgamations of his life in Hollywood and the old menace of Chris Hobbs and the Saint James Academy. One night, a particularly vivid one jars him awake and he starts talking to himself.

He's been doing that a lot lately. The talking thing. Not real talking, just stupid stuff. "I have to buy milk in the morning. Boy, it's hot in here. I wish I hadn't eaten those chocolate bars. Where are my pills?" That kind of thing. He supposes it's the inevitable result of living alone for the first time in his life. Usually it doesn't bother him. He doesn't think he's a mental case or anything- just a little lonely, maybe. But after this nightmare he starts comforting himself, pacing around Brett's fucking dark, creepy guest house, talking about how it was just a dream and he'll feel better tomorrow and Chris isn't really a bloodthirsty zombie with an enormous gaping head wound, and if he was he probably wouldn't be able to track Justin down to Los Angeles, and it all feels so lame and depressing he wants to just kill himself or something.

He's not completely alone, of course. He could always trudge up to the main house which is undoubtedly full of wasted celebrities and piles of cocaine, but Brett lives there and Brett, it turns out, is a little bit annoying. He doesn't like to go there very much anymore.

He wishes he didn't have to do this. It's four AM on the east coast, and there's something vaguely pathetic about calling this late. As if this were some sort of emergency. As if his retarded nightmare was a life and death situation. But there's no denying the fact that just hearing Brian's voice makes him feel a tiny bit better.

"This could only be one person," he grumbles into the phone. Irritated, but not really. Groggy, but he wasn't sleeping. He answered after one and a half rings. Justin can hear the TV faintly in the background.

"Don't any of your other boyfriends call you this late?" Justin asks, trying for levity, but his voice sounds terrible. He sounds like he's been crying, even though he hasn't.

Brian grunts in reply, and starts moving around. The TV goes off, and some bottles clink together.

"Want a beer?" he asks.

"Yeah," Justin says, and he really really does. He makes his way over to the kitchen, and the phone slips out of the crook between his ear and his shoulder as he's opening the bottle. It falls onto the floor and Brian's yelling "Justin! What the fuck!" so loud that Justin can here him all the way down there, and it's kind of funny 'cause he probably thinks Justin called because of some intruder or rapist or something.

Well, maybe it's not that funny.

He picks it up again quick, tells Brian he's there, he's fine, and brings the phone and the beer back to bed. He lights up a cigarette. Starts smoking and drinking and willing his fucking hand to stop shaking.

"So, what's the deal?" Brian asks after a few minutes of silence.

"Deal?"

"What's wrong? And don't tell me nothing, I can hear it in your voice. Do I have to come out there and bring you back home?"

He's trying to sound sarcastic and silly, but Justin knows that he's only half joking. Brian really is worried about him, and he'd be very happy to take him back home right this minute if it was possible. He'd probably never admit it though, which is actually a fucking blessing at this point. If Brian ever flat out asked him to come home, he's not sure he'd be able to say no.

"It's nothing," Justin says. "Just a stupid dream."

"Well if it was a wet one, gimme a minute to get in bed before you relay the details."

"It wasn't a sex dream, all right? It was just a stupid nightmare."

"I know," Brian says. "I recognize that tone in your voice. Haven't heard it in awhile, but I remember."

Justin recognizes the tone in Brian's voice as well. It's a relatively new one. He's switching over into concerned, serious, partner-man. The grown-up. The Brian nobody imagined possible even a year ago. Sometimes Adult Brian freaks Justin out a little bit. Tonight he's pretty comforting.

"If you know then why'd you make me say it?"

Brian ignores him.

"You're not taking candy from strangers, are you?" he asks. "Some of that shit'll fuck your dreams up."

"Jesus, Brian, no. You fucking ask me that every time I talk to you."

"Anti-depressants? Tranquilizers?"

"I took Unisom. From the fucking drug store. Jesus Christ."

"Sleeping pills? I don't want you taking that shit either. Those things are addictive, you know."

Okay, so sometimes Adult Brian is a fucking pain in the ass. Sometimes he's such an annoying nag, Justin thinks he'd probably kill him if it wasn't so fucking funny. If it wasn't getting his mind off the nightmare. He's not shaking anymore, and his heart isn't beating so fast.

"Brian, I know. Can you stop lecturing me, please? I just needed to get some sleep, okay?"

Justin hasn't told Adult Brian about the virtual pharmacy in his medicine cabinet, but he suspects Adult Brian already knows. It doesn't really matter, though. None of it is from a stranger.

Brian lets out a sigh and shifts around a little. Justin imagines him at the kitchen counter, slumped down in one of the stools, wearing his worn out old blue jeans with the top button undone. No shirt, hair mussed, light from the street streaming in through the window and reflecting off the angles on his face. The image makes him ache so bad he almost can't take it.

"So, do you wanna tell me about it?" Brian asks him eventually. "Or should we have another beer?"

"It was stupid," Justin tells him. "Totally ridiculous. I dunno why it even woke me up."

"Most dreams are ridiculous. Doesn't mean they can't shake you up. I still have that one about my shoes walking out of my closet, and it still freaks me out."

Justin laughs in spite of himself, remembering the time Brian woke up from that particular dream and would not be consoled until he'd accounted for every single pair of Gucci's and Pradas in the loft. All seventeen of them. And the twelve that sit downstairs in storage, anxiously awaiting the day GQ declares them back in style.

Justin's always believed the dream was related to Brian's numerous abandonment issues. Brian thinks it's about getting old. Or fear of people stealing his shoes.

Whatever it signifies, it is silly, and Brian does get freaked out by it, and thinking about that makes Justin feel a little bit less idiotic.

"Was it Chris?" Brian asks.

Justin sighs, wishing it wasn't. Wishing he wasn't so fucking predictable and that there were other things he had nightmares about, occasionally.

"He was a zombie. His brains were hanging out of his head. Like somebody shot him."

Brian is uncomfortably quiet for a minute- the way he always is when Justin's gun-wielding maniac phase is indirectly referenced. They haven't directly discussed it since the night he came home from Chris's house, laughing and crying and shaking all at once.

Then he clears his throat and says, "Gross."

"He came to find me on the set, after everybody had gone home at night," Justin continues. "He told me I shouldn't be exploiting our situation for financial gain. Then he tried to eat me."

"Ah-huh....I thought zombies didn't talk."

"Well, this one did. He was smarter than alive-Chris, actually."

"So are you?"

"Hmm?"

"Exploiting it?"

Justin starts to say no. No, of course he's not, and he's not letting anyone else do that either. That's why he's here, isn't it? To protect his vision, his artistic integrity. In fact, the only thing keeping him remotely sane is the thought that he is making some sort of difference, he is saving this movie from complete and utter stupidity. But just yesterday he spent his entire afternoon convincing some fat, faceless Hollywood executive that no, Angelina Jolie would not make a perfect Zephyr, and God only knows what other crap managed to slip under his radar while he was dealing with that mess, and Jesus Christ, what is he supposed to do with that sort of thing? It's just so much. So constant, and he's so tired, and honestly, he's never felt so fucking powerless and overwhelmed in his entire life. Not even after the bashing. Never. So he can't say no, because who the fuck knows what he's doing anymore.

"I dunno," is what he does say. "I'm trying not to."

Brian grunts something unintelligible and Justin hears him starting to pee.

"Maybe my subconscious thinks that I am."

"Mm," Brian says, and flushes the toilet. "Plus you're taking those fucking sleeping death pills. That's how Marilyn Monroe died, you know."

"Marilyn Monroe died from Unisom?"

"What's the name of your drugstore? I'm gonna call over there and tell them you're only sixteen."

"Brian, they let sixteen year olds buy sleeping pills. Will you get off it already? Nobody OD's on those things by accident."

"Well, maybe if you had too much to drink or something. Just want you to be safe," Brian tells him quietly, and Justin wishes he could curl up against him and kiss his neck. Let him know that he appreciates it, even if it is annoying as hell. Show him that. There's so much that's so hard to say over the fucking telephone.

"I guess they do make my dreams more vivid," Justin admits. The Xanax are even worse, but Justin doesn't mention those.

"How're you feeling now?" Brian asks.

"Mm, better I think."

"Turn out the lights, Justin."

Justin flicks off the lamp on his bedside table and pulls the blankets up over his head. Sometimes, when he's cocooned in here, with no sensory input other than Brian's voice against his ear, it almost feels like they're really together.

"Close your eyes," Brian tells him. "Tomorrow's Sunday. We'll sleep in, okay?"

"Mm," Justin sighs. He's not sure if it actually is Sunday tomorrow. His schedule is so completely fucked, it doesn't even matter. All he knows is he's got to be in at the butt crack of dawn again, and there's no fucking way he's sleeping late. In fact his alarm is probably going to go off in two or three hours, but it's a nice fantasy to indulge and he lets himself pretend.

"How're you doing?" he asks Brian, after listening to him breathing and shifting around in bed for a little while. "Still getting laid every night?"

Justin's had a niggling suspicion, ever since Brian told him that, that it wasn't completely true. That he maybe only said it because for some reason he seems to think Justin's life is a non-stop carnival of exciting parties and celebrity tricks. Justin is somewhat embarrassed to admit that when he came out here, he expected it to be just that. He didn't realize at first that Brett was asking him to those stupid parties for purely selfish reasons. He didn't realize that going to parties and fucking celebrities was part of his job. Or that it could all get so fucking old so fucking fast.

"Mmm...maybe not every night," Brian tells him, and Justin can't help smiling just a little. "Don't tell anyone."

"Too late," Justin says. "S'already on the internet."

"Ha. You're not much of a comedy writer, y'know."

"Yeah, so I hear. All my joke suggestions for the movie have been shot down."

Brian chuckles in his throat, deep and gravelly and sleepy, and Justin feels it all over. Feels it like Brian's pressed up against him, naked and laughing and warm.

"S'cause you're a big dork," Brian says.

"I keep telling them Rage has a corny sense of humor, but nobody believes me."

"Not Rage. You."

"You're the one with the stupid puns all the time," Justin says. "They won't let me put them in. They think Rage is too cool for stupid puns."

"Not stupid. Clever."

"Well maybe you should come down here and talk to them. Maybe they'd seem cooler and cleverer coming from you."

"Why don't you just say you want me to come see you?" Brian asks.

"I want you to come see me."

"Good," Brian says with a yawn. "Cause I already bought a ticket."

"You...What? Are you serious? Why didn't you say something?"

"It was supposed to be a surprise."

"When are you coming?"

"Three weeks," Brian tells him. "Three weeks and two days. I'll email you my itinerary tomorrow."

Three weeks. Three weeks and two days. Justin thinks maybe he can make it that long without stabbing someone. If he tries really hard. Maybe he won't end up in a mental hospital.

Of course, part of him is afraid of Brian coming here. Seeing how stupid his life has really become. He doesn't want to be nagged or judged or made to feel inadequate. Like he can't handle this. Like he's gotten in over his head. If Brian thinks he's on top of things, he can convince himself that he is most of the time. Even when he isn't. And it's much easier to sound cool and together on the telephone.

Still, his need to be close to Brian, to actually touch and smell and taste him, is so overwhelming and powerful, nothing else really matters. It makes him happy to think of it. He'd almost forgotten what happy feels like.

"Can't wait to see you," he says. "Miss you a lot."

"Mm...me too," Brian says, and yawns again. "Never realized how fucking huge this bed is."

"Not even the time you fit that whole Canadian soccer team in there?"

"Not even then. Go to sleep, Justin. I'll be here when you wake up."

Brian falls asleep himself a few minutes later, but Justin never does. He cradles the phone against the side of his head, listening to Brian snore and mumble, until his battery dies and his alarm goes off and it's another fucking day again. But maybe this one will be a little better than most, he thinks. Now that he has something to look forward to.

-end-