Timeline: Post Season Five
Genre: Angst, Romance
"Go ahead, push your luck,
Find out how much love the world can hold"
The Gallery’s floors are slick marble, the walls a neutral taupe. The fixtures, all brushed nickel, held my attention yesterday, when my world was all about detail, and lighting, and juxtaposition. When the doors hadn’t opened and tomorrow was still anticipated.
Tonight my world is all about feeling. How it feels to be here, in New York, with my art the centre-piece of this show. Watching people experience my work and listening to them draw conclusions I never intended, but love to hear anyway.
How it feels to have him here, sharing this with me. Knowing that, as he stands beside me, as I introduce him, listen to him schmooze, that the ground that we stand on has just become a little more level.
When I feel his fingers brush my back, I know that our time apart was worth it. That if I had stayed in Pittsburgh we would have worked, but I might not have been who I am now. And I like this, I love this feeling of who I am now. Not half of us…but whole as me…in love with him.
Getting this show was such a coup. The Eye Level Gallery has carved out its own little place on the map. Raymond, the Gallery Director, has told me that the owner is a corporate giant with a penchant for the arts, and has ten galleries including two here in New York. But I think Eye Level may be the cream of the crop.
As the night draws to a close, I know that Brian is getting antsy to go. His touch has become firmer, more insistent. We haven’t seen each other in six weeks and our nature is about to rise above the refinement of this environment. When I take his hand and whisper that I’m ready to leave, he half growls and moans into my neck, so primal in his beautiful suit that I feel weak.
Raymond is closing in on us, smiling and talking in superlatives which make me feel giddy and wonderful. He pulls me by the hand insisting that he introduce me to one more person before we leave and Brian is pulled along with us. When I feel him stiffen, I don’t have time to turn before Raymond is introducing me to the owner of the Gallery.
When Brian’s hand closes on my shoulder I can feel the air get thicker but I’m not sure yet what is happening. Noah Windsor is a beautiful man. Aged to perfection and confident in the way that Brian is. He shakes my hand and congratulates me on the show. He tells me that he didn’t expect to be able to make it but his schedule had changed. He tells me how much he enjoys openings and is pleased to have been here to see the glowing reaction to my art.
When he reaches past me and shakes Brian’s hand, greeting him by name without introduction, I know I don’t hide my surprise. Noah notices and explains that Brian’s firm has recently handled his company’s promotional campaign for next fall. He talks about the nature of his business and the theme of the advertising but I can’t really follow him because the buzzing in my head drowns out the polite talk happening around me.
Brian has regained his ground and is chatting easily with Noah. Raymond seems enamored with both of them. When Noah takes his leave, I hug Raymond good-bye, thanking him and promising to call tomorrow.
Brian is steering me towards the door and people are waving or hugging me as we go. And then the penny drops. I tell him to get us a cab, tell him I’ve forgotten to say good-bye to someone who could be a great contact. He seems reluctant but goes anyway, insisting that I make it quick.
When I pull Raymond into an alcove he looks at me with a questioning face.
“Why did you contact me for this show?” I ask him pointedly. I don’t have much time.
Raymond smiles warmly, “Justin, you are becoming known, I felt lucky to get you.”
When I take his arm, shaking him a little, he seems startled, “Who decided to initiate the contact?”
When he says, “This is a wonderful opportunity Justin. Enjoy your evening and we’ll talk tomorrow,” my stomach drops to my feet.
“It was Noah, wasn’t it? He called and asked you to contact me.” I wait, and then I see everything on his face that I don’t want to. “Don’t bother Raymond.” As I back away from him he shakes his head and steps toward me, but stops when I raise my hand.
I collect myself as I walk to the door, waving again and smiling my good-byes. I need to stay calm and think my way through this.
He is waiting in the cab and as I get in I can tell he is unsure of me. It’s hard to tell when Brian is apprehensive, he can look so impassive when there are a million thoughts running through his mind. But the space I keep between us and the fact that he isn’t closing the distance speaks volumes.
When I go to speak I can hear my voice sounding tight and controlled. “I don’t want any bullshit, I want a straight answer to this very uncomplicated question. If you answer anything other than yes or no, I will assume the answer is yes. Do you understand me?” His slight head nod causes me to continue. “Did you raise my art with Noah Windsor when you were negotiating the ad contract?”
Without hesitation he replies, “Yes. In the course of doing business we discussed his galleries. I told him about you and that you were in New York.”
“This makes me sick.” I actually do feel like I might throw up. The cab driver seems to sense my urgency and announces that there is a flat rate of $200.00 if I vomit in his car. He waves Brian’s credit card in the rear–view mirror and I suddenly feel an incredible urgency to get out of the car, pulling on the door handle and causing a flurry of raised voices between Brian and the driver. By the time he’s paid the fare I am already running the last few blocks to my flat.
Fumbling with the keys, I finally get the door open and walk blindly to my bedroom closing the door and locking it. I let the solidness of the wood ground me as I sink to the floor, welcoming the dark and the ambiguity of all the shapes in the room. It reflects the haziness in my head.
Seconds later I can hear him come through my front door and pace the rooms looking for me. He stops on the other side of the bedroom door and waits. The bump I hear above me is his forehead hitting the door as he tries the knob.
“Justin, let me in,” his voice is tired.
I’m not really sure if anything will come out when I go to speak. “I feel like this night, everything I’ve worked for since I came here, all of it, has been taken away from me. I can’t believe you did this.”
“Justin, I didn’t do anything. I mentioned to him that you were an artist. I’m sure I told him your work is great. But I didn’t go any further than that.”
“You didn’t have to go any further. I know how it works.” My disbelief is subsiding a little and anger is closing in.
“He’s my client Justin, he doesn’t have to do anything to ingratiate himself to me. It’s the other way around.”
“Fuck off Brian, I’m not suggesting you offered ten percent off if he let me show at his Gallery. I’m saying that you have a professional relationship and things like this just become a part of doing business.” I can hear him sliding down the other side of the door. We’re back to back, and miles apart.
“You know what, you’re right, I didn’t think it was such a bad thing that the owner of one of the trendiest galleries in New York knew that you were an artist, and yes, I thought he might check out your work. But I didn’t get your stuff hung on the walls Justin, that’s all you.” His voice is clipped but controlled, he hates being misunderstood.
“Do you have any idea how I am feeling right now? I’ve gone from feeling like I’d finally made it, to feeling like I’m a side deal in a bigger discussion.” I think there may be embarrassment mixed in there too. I’m embarrassed that I thought I had done this on my own, when others knew differently.
“Justin, I’m not sure what you want here, telling Noah that you were an artist opened the door to a contact but you had to walk through it. That’s how business is done every day, contacts, connections, it’s called networking.”
When I bang the door above my head with my fist, I’m pretty sure it lands in the vicinity of the back of his head. “I wanted to do this on my own. It feels like you didn’t trust in me enough to let me do this myself. It feels like you can’t stop saving me.”
“Christ, Justin, this wasn’t a rescue. I thought he would be the kind of contact you needed to get your foot in the door.”
“And that’s it right there isn’t it, you were deciding what I needed? Rage the avenger, swooping in to save the day.” Somewhere along the line I’ve started to cry. The tears are leaving hot streaks on my cheeks which I only notice when I feel them burning my skin.
“Rage was a character you invented Justin. I’m not the rescuing type.”
“That is such bullshit. You rescue people all of the time. Michael, Lindsay, Debbie, even Ted. Your wallet is your weapon. You even arrange weddings for fuck sakes. That’s how you operate, you keep people tethered to you by providing what they can’t get themselves. And I’m your biggest project.” I bang my elbows back against the door for emphasis.
There is a long silence and he finally says, “I should have asked. I’m sorry. I do believe in you.” His voice is quiet and slow. He sounds like he’s appeasing me.
“You don’t believe in yourself, Brian,” and even as I’m saying it, things start becoming clearer for me. “You need to be needed, that’s how you experience love. If you give people what they need, you think it binds them to you. And if we need you, we won’t leave.”
He starts to speak “Justin…,” and then trails off. My chest has that constricted feeling like when you want to sob but you can’t get enough air. I’ve gone from wanting to kill him to wanting to heal him in ten minutes. I may not survive this man.
When I hear him speak again I can hear the catch in his voice, “Before you came into my life, I was completely self-sufficient. I never left anything to luck. And then you showed up and I started to think that maybe good things happened that you didn’t plan. That maybe I was going to have a little luck after all.”
I have to interrupt him, “You may have been self-sufficient when you met me, but you weren’t alone. You had this little family around you that you worked to keep. You never left Pittsburgh because of them. Debbie and Vic and Mikey and Linds, and now Gus. Brian, you are the most loyal person I know. You just don’t trust that you are worth the same feelings back. You need us, and you try and protect that part of yourself by having us need you more.”
I turn and kneel facing the door, stroking the spot where I think his back is. “You let me go to New York because you thought that was what I needed. But you kept your wing extended. You’re still trying to take care of me.”
I lean my head against the door, I don’t know where to go from here, but the words seem to spill out of me somehow. “It’s not all about need, it’s about give, and take. It’s about balance. You’ve never had steady. You were never able to count on anyone, so you want to keep giving what you think I need as if that’s the only way you will hold this relationship together. That’s not love Brian, that’s fear. Fear of being left alone, of not being loved, of not being worth it.”
“But I know you have needs. You count too.” Then I almost whisper when I say, “Push your luck, Brian, be brave enough to be vulnerable.”
We slip into silence again until I hear a rustling under the door. He has slipped his fingertips under the edge. I can see the wetness that glistens there. And without really thinking I wipe my own face and then paint his fingers with our combined tears.
When he speaks it’s so soft, “I want you to be everything you can be, Justin. I just wish it didn’t have to be away from me.”
“I’m right here,” I whisper as I turn the lock.
He doesn’t even look at me as he crawls through the door, stretching out on the floor of the bedroom. I drape myself over his back and along his side, covering him as much as I can. One of us has to make some decisions here.
I nuzzle closer to his ear so he can hear me say, “Here’s the deal, we are going to figure this out. I will paint six months a year in our home in West Virginia and spend the rest of the time in New York. You will commute to see me twice a month or open an office here or whatever, we’ll find a way. We will have a mature relationship where we talk things over and make joint decisions. And you and I will both be deliriously happy.”
“You’ve been thinking about this,” he snorts. “Well, what about what I need?”
I am smiling when I whisper into his neck, “Oh, I know what you need.”
He shifts under me and gets more comfortable, I feel that he’s listening. “I know you need it to be soft right now, I know you need me to pay attention to the part of you that hurts.” He turns to look at me, his big hazel eyes wet and questioning.
“I love being fucked by you Brian. I love how you know everything about me and what builds my desire. You read every subtle thing I tell you with my body. Having someone pay that close attention to you, it’s the most flattering thing in the world.” I kiss his forehead and cheek and stroke his back.
“And I love fucking you, Brian, I love it when you’re tired and you let me fuck you so slow. And I love it when you want it so bad I barely have time to prepare you before you’re pushing back into me. I love that I can make you lose yourself in sensation, find those moments where you genuinely give yourself to me.” I watch him close his eyes and burrow into me a little more. He smells like coming home.
“But right now I want to make love to you. I want to show you how I know your body, I want to touch all the places that only I know. I want to lick the palm of your hand, the small of your back and the arch of your foot. I want to stroke you softly. I want to fill you up and make you come. I want to touch you in a way that says I love doing this, I love making you feel this way.”
“But when the need is sated, I’m still here, because I love you Brian. Love isn’t about need, it’s about commitment. It’s scary, it’s about knowing the worst about each other, our fears and weaknesses, that we’re fragile and fallible, and even knowing this, wanting to be together anyway. Christ, love’s what keeps you together when you hate each other.”
He opens his eyes at that, my veiled reference to tonight not lost on him. I kiss his cheek, his lips. I have to forgive him for us to move on.
“Love is so powerful, it’s about honor, respect, and sacrifice. I see you do these things all the time, for me, for all the people you love, except I don’t even think you know that. You show love all of the time. You just need to believe you deserve it back.”
“So where to from here?” he asks. I think he genuinely wants to know.
“Well, first I’m going to take you to heaven.” He smiles, he likes that. “And then, we are going to talk about our future. We’re going to be OK, but you have to trust me. You know, like those games where you fall backwards and you have to trust that someone will be there to catch you. I’ll catch you, Brian. I promise. You have to hear me, are you listening?”
“I’m trying Justin.” He says it in such a small voice that it hurts me.
I wrap myself around him as tightly as I can, sliding a hand under him and covering his heart. I want to spend my life convincing him he’s worth it.
“Tell me again.”