Timeline: Post Season Five
Genre: Angst, Romance
Your first week in New York City is a blur. You know you walked more than you ever have in your life. You smoked. A lot. One of the main highlights was definitely balancing yourself precariously on the side of the tub to steal wireless internet from the neighbors. You’re pretty sure that you’d already sufficiently annoyed your new roommate, Carol (who is everything Daphne is not, by the way—there is far too much pink in the apartment), by the third day, especially after the incident involving the Easy Mac, which is so not easy to make; anyway, how were you supposed to know that the bowl you found wasn’t microwave-safe? The apartment smelled like a mix of rancid cheese product and burnt plastic for days. It was pretty bad.
“What the fuck, Justin?” Carol moaned as she handed you a bottle of all-purpose cleaner and a roll of paper towels. “Didn’t you go to college? I mean, honestly. That’s where you’re supposed to learn these valuable life skills.”
(You know you never made Easy Mac—or Ramen, for that matter, which has also become a staple of your diet recently—for obvious reasons when you lived with Brian, but you don’t know why it never came up when you lived with Daphne. You decide that even though you may have been worried about money before, you always had someone ready to bail you out and take you grocery shopping. Brian, your mother, Debbie, even Emmett showed up at your door with a bag full of groceries one time. It’s funny how random little things like that come up in your new life, your New York City life.)
You call Brian that first week and talk at light speed, trying to include every last detail of The Adventure That Is New York. In other words, you ramble. “So we’re in the Village, obviously, in this ridiculously small one-bedroom apartment with just one dirty window and heat that only works some of the time, but it’s okay. I mean, it’s great.” Above everything else, you want Brian to know you’re doing well, even though you miss him more than you could possibly express over the phone. The ‘missing’ is there in the subtext, right? It’s probably better that way.
“One-bedroom? So what do you do when you need to get laid? Worse, when she needs to get laid?” Brian shudders audibly over the phone.
“Well, it’s sort of a time-share-type thing. We signal that we have somebody in the room by putting a magnet on the bedroom door. Oh, and if one of us knows that the other has to be somewhere in the morning, we just find somewhere else to fuck.”
“Ah, the ‘sock on the door’ concept? It’s all so very…college.” Brian laughs a little, and you could swear that you hear nostalgia in his voice.
You bite your tongue and ignore the college comment. “And then there’s the subway, which is definitely an experience in itself. I think we’re on the blue line, which is also the A line. But sometimes it’s the C line or maybe the E line, I don’t remember. I missed my stop the other day and ended up in Brooklyn, that was weird. I was counting the stops and didn’t realize that I was on the express train, which hey, how was I supposed to know.” You pause. “I think I should probably invest in a subway map,” you say.
You tell him about the scary mimes that acted out a passion play in Washington Square Park, the amazing crepe place two blocks from your apartment, the little café where you use the free WiFi to email Michael about Rage (you decided that the high probability of falling off the side of the tub just didn’t make it worth the effort; besides, you’re tied to Brian’s insurance at Kinnetik, and the call from the hospital would be way too embarrassing). You want to tell Brian everything, though you’re sure you’ve already forgotten so much. The idea of a history without him feels awful, so you try to include him vicariously in everything you see and experience here.
“I miss you,” Brian says out of nowhere, in the middle of your babbling about some Spanish-speaking performance artist who painted herself gold to represent the struggle for women’s rights. The comment catches you off guard and you feel like the Grinch after his heart grows three sizes. Maybe it’s not better left as subtext, after all.
(There are lots of little things Brian does now to let you know he misses you, actually. You start to regularly receive text messages in the middle of the day, usually when Brian’s bored at work after a busy morning of berating Ted. This fucking client can’t even wipe his own ass. I loathe him. Too bad he’s worth millions. You love your boyfriend.)
Your second and third weeks in New York? They aren’t so different from the first, but you’ve acclimated yourself and now the walking isn’t so bad. At the very least, Carol hasn’t given you that “you stupid, stupid man” look lately. You call Brian, and he calls you, but the anxiety that fills your chest whenever you hear the phone ring is starting to drop off. You still appreciate, however, the lazy calls on otherwise nondescript afternoons, those good times when Brian is just a bit stoned and talkative:
“Justin, I have been wearing clothes for years. You’re just going to have to trust me,” he says one such afternoon, right after you tell him that a new suit is the last thing he needs.
You get a job with a catering company, which is certainly helpful for paying your half of the rent. The hours are flexible so you have plenty of time to paint and add to your portfolio; more importantly, the company has contracts with several of the major galleries you’ve been lusting after since you first got to New York. You take full advantage of this fact, working as many events as you can at those venues, taking in all the faces and names that you’d ever need to know. The same way you’d keep up on gossip at the Liberty Diner in Pittsburgh (and oh, if the gang back home only knew some of the things you’d heard, you could blackmail them for ages if you ever felt so inclined), you keep an ear out for any interesting information on the New York art scene: whose work is the best thing since sliced bread (and where their stuff’s being shown), who’s a total bitch, which galleries are fishing around for up-and-coming artists, which gallery is best for which kind of show, etc.
By the fifth week, you take what you’ve learned and stroll into your gallery of choice with portfolio in tow. You know just the right things to say and the best way to pitch The Product That Is Justin Taylor, Artist. The owner, a petite Kenyan woman with just a hint of an accent, offers you a place in their winter show. “Lovely.” She keeps repeating that word as she flips through the photos of your best canvases. After discussing all the logistics and fine print for your upcoming show, you walk out of the gallery feeling damn good. You don’t feel quit-your-day-job good quite yet, but you feel validated, and that’s what counts.
You call Brian that night and he’s proud, you can tell. “Playing with the big boys now, Sunshine,” he says. Gus is visiting from Canada and you hear something crash in the background, so Brian distractedly tells you he’ll call back and he hangs up.
The next few weeks are insane. There are meetings about the show, interviews with various local artsy-fartsy papers, ongoing searches for your own place (Carol apparently has a problem with “gross paint fumes”). There are long hours spent on the phone with Michael, debating the semantics of every other line of dialogue in the newest issue of Rage. There is a lot of Easy Mac. You stop smoking—mostly because you can’t afford it—and you’re on edge a lot of the time as a result. You work fewer shifts with the catering company only because you can’t be asleep from exhaustion in the middle of the afternoon; you need to finish your last incomplete canvas for the show. You do just about everything but call Brian (you know he’s busy too—the winter holidays are always an advertising marathon), but you can’t worry about him right now.
You have to make your mark. You have to make it work. This is all or nothing.
You get it all. The show is an overwhelming success, and you’re slipped business cards from four different galleries. The apartment of your dreams shows up on Craig’s List, so you move to a studio apartment in Brooklyn the week before Christmas. As you stretch out on the only slightly lumpy couch you also found online, you feel like the luckiest guy in New York City, even if you haven’t heard from Brian in weeks. You can only hope that your streak of good luck will continue, right after you take a nap.
You continue to sleepily lounge in your general state of Zen until some asshole knocks on your door, forcing you to get up and answer it.
“I know I said I’d call back, but since I’m already here…Merry Christmas?” Brian cocks his head to the side a bit and smirks.
You gape. “You’re ridiculous,” you say, letting him in the apartment.
“I know,” he says, not missing a beat. He pulls an industrial-sized box of condoms out from behind his back. There is a big red bow on the box, and you can only laugh.
“Those for us?”
Brian rolls his eyes. “No, Justin, they’re for your cat lady neighbor. Yes, they’re for us.”
“I guess this really does make me the luckiest guy in New York City,” you say mostly to yourself, turning back to close the door. Brian grabs you by the shoulders and pulls you to him.
“I wouldn’t credit luck, Sunshine,” he says softly, his breath on your neck. “I would give most of the credit to my frequent flyer miles.”
He’s right about one thing—it’s not luck. It’s hard work, devotion, and sticking your nose to the grindstone. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. It’s feeling like you’re taking on “just one more thing” until you’re ready to break. It takes years, decades of everything you can give. Love requires all of those things and more to work properly, but when it does work? It’s amazing. You already know that you, Justin Taylor, love two things: art and Brian Kinney. And now, you think you’re up to the challenge of letting the whole world know about it.