Willow Hill, PA, Pop. 317

Jude


Timeline: S1
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Not mine. I own nothing and do not profit.


One minute, Emmett was patiently teaching Justin the words to Barbra's "Don't Rain on My Parade," the next, he was bent over the Jeep's engine listening to a Brian Kinney rant of epic proportions. When Brian finally took a break from his prolonged and inspired bout of cursing, the first thing out of his mouth was: "This is all your fault, Theodore!"

"Me?" Ted sputtered. "What the hell did I do?"

"Yes, Brian," Emmett asked pointing his flashlight directly into Brian's face, "how exactly is this Teddy's fault?"

"Get that shit out of my face!" Brian waved his arm menacingly. "If Theodore hadn't been such a goddamn miser, Mysterious fucking Marilyn would've told us about this." He paused in his search for his Triple A card to shoot Ted a venomous look. "You gave her half the going rate and we got half the information!"

"Mysterious Marilyn?" Justin laughed. "What are you guys talking about?"

"Marilyn warned Brian to have his tires checked before we left, but he didn't listen and sure enough, we had a blowout on the way to New York," Emmett explained, head back under the hood.

"But Brian thinks she's full of shit," Justin said. "He called her a fake two weeks ago at Woody's. Besides, that's just common sense advice for anyone going on a road trip. It hardly qualifies as seeing the future."

"Actually," Ted said raising his voice to be heard above Brian's cell phone conversation, "she also knew you'd stolen his credit card and were headed to Chelsea to become a go-go boy."

"She said you'd be fabulous." Emmett smiled over his shoulder affectionately.

"No fucking way!" Justin exclaimed, clearly thunderstruck. "She knew all that? What else did she-"

"Fuck! Motherfucking piece of shit!" Brian's renewed cursing startled them all into silence. "Some moron cancelled the membership on the old Jeep and never activated the new one!" He stalked over to Ted and glared. "Surely you have a membership."

"Sorry, Bri," Ted replied not sounding sorry at all. "My car's only eight months old. It's not economically prudent to carry Triple A. I ran a regression analysis which-"

"I don't give a damn about your analysis! What I give a damn about is that I'm stuck on the goddamn turnpike in the middle of fucking nowhere in the middle of the fucking night!"

"Actually, the reason we're stuck out here in the middle of the night instead of the middle of the day when we could've easily gotten the alternator fixed, Brian, is because you had to restock your entire wardrobe in a single afternoon," Emmett said wiping his hands on a rag and letting the hood slam shut.

He was referring to the four-hour shopping spree Brian had decided was absolutely essential before leaving New York.

"Yeah, well, whose fault is that?" Michael countered. "Little Miss Gypsy Rose Lee over there!" His tone was half-joking, but Justin resented it nonetheless. Michael had made a couple of remarks earlier in the day that made it clear he thought Justin was a royal pain in the ass.

"Enough," Brian said holding up his hands. "Everybody, just shut the fuck up. You're going to need all your energy to push."

"Push?" Emmett asked. "Push what?"

"I'm not leaving it here," Brian said flatly gesturing toward the Jeep. "It's black and it could get hit. That exit is less than two hundred yards away."

They all turned to look where Brian was pointing. There was a faint glow of light at the bottom of the exit, not exactly promising, but indicative of some sort of civilization.

"Justin," Brian called tossing him the keys, "you steer."

Caught off guard, Justin managed to catch the keys before they hit the ground. Not only was he surprised at having been asked to steer, he was surprised that Brian had spoken to him directly. He'd been friendly enough in the hotel room, but once they'd joined the group, he'd been cool and aloof.

It took them twenty minutes to reach the end of the exit. Another five and they were in the parking lot of Phantom's, an abandoned fireworks store. A faded "Bicentennial Blowout Sale" sign was visible through a dark window and the weeds were hip-high and flourishing.

The only other building in sight was a small clapboard house across the road which announced itself as the "Willow Diner" in cheery, red neon.

"Other than that diner, I don't see anything else," Michael said scanning up and down the road.

"There's got to be gas station nearby," Justin said. "Let's go over there and find out. Plus we can get something to eat. I'm starving."

"I highly doubt they're serving caviar or lobster," Brian said cupping his hands to light a cigarette. "Are you sure your rarified digestive system won't revolt at the introduction of road food?"

Ted and Emmett laughed and Michael shook his head. Brian had told them about Justin's six hundred dollar room service tab, ticking off the various items he'd found in Room 1217: foie gras, Camembert, pomegranates, roast duck, turtle soup, sushi. What he hadn't told them was how, after that first, savage fuck, he'd made Justin eat the rest of the caviar off his come-slicked cock before fucking him again. Made was a relative word, Justin thought, his dick twitching in complete agreement.

He glanced over at Brian trying to gauge his mood. Brian's last remark had had less bite than usual. It had been almost teasing. Maybe he'd worked out some of his aggression pushing the Jeep. Maybe he felt bad about giving Justin the cold shoulder. Whatever the reason, Justin was glad of it.

The diner parking lot was empty except for a VW Bug with a "For Sale" sign duct-taped to its windshield and a van of indeterminate color. At the front door, Ted stopped and waited for Michael and Brian to catch up. "Remember," he said putting his hand on Brian's shoulder, "don't scare the natives. This may be our only chance of getting home."

Brian nodded deferentially, pulled the door open and waved him through. "After you, Ambassador Schmidt."

Like the parking lot, the restaurant was deserted except for a tiny, white-haired waitress sitting at the counter reading a book and swaying to the song playing on the jukebox and a bald, tattooed cook scraping grease off the grill. Neither turned to acknowledge them.

"Excuse me," Ted said politely as he approached the waitress.

"Listen." She held up her hand to silence him. "Don't you just love this song?"


"Heavenly shades of night are falling, it's twilight time.

Out of the mist your voice is calling, 'tis twilight time."*



"Now that's what I call music," she said turning to smile at Ted, eyes twinkling behind a pair of purple bifocals.

"An American classic," Ted agreed leaning forward to read her name tag. "Moira. Hi. My name's Ted Schmidt and my friends and I are in need of some assistance. Our car broke down and we need to find the nearest garage or tow-truck service."

"Sorry to hear about your troubles, honey. Unfortunately, the nearest place is Morrigan's over in Carlisle, and they're closed till noon tomorrow. The owner, my nephew, got married in Altoona today," she said proudly. "Looks like you boys will be spending the night. Lucky for you, the Willow Hill Inn has vacancies."

"Imagine that," Brian drawled, chewing on a toothpick he'd taken from the small dispenser in front of the cash register.

"If you want," Moira offered, "I can call my sister, Frances. She runs the place."

They all looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. What else were they going to?

"Thank you, Moira. That would be great," Ted said.

"Is there some place to get a drink around here?" Brian asked.

Moira studied Brian intently before answering. "My sister Clovis runs the liquor store, but she usually locks up by ten." Moira looked at the clock on the wall. "You'll make it, if you hurry. It's north of here about half a mile. I'll call her and let her know you're coming, and if you want, she can give you ride up to the inn. It's off the main road and somewhat hard to find."

"Thanks," Brian said and started for the door.

"Wait," Emmett said, "we want something to eat."

"And I want something to drink," Brian replied. "Come on, Mikey."

"Here, Emmett," Michael said reaching for his wallet, "get me a cheeseburger and fries."

"Hold on," Moira interrupted. "Everything's been put away for the night."

"Everything?" Justin asked looking around.

"Sorry, honey. We were just getting ready to go home."

"What about some danish or bread?" Justin tried again.

"All out," Moira said. "Sorry."

"Is there anywhere else to eat?" Michael asked.

Moira shook her head. "We're the only ones open this late."

"Not much of a diner," Brian muttered under his breath turning to leave.

"Sometimes," Moira said, "travelers are in need of more than just food."

"Yeah, like whiskey and beer," Brian retorted. "Let's go."

"Don't worry." Moira smiled at Justin. "Frances is bound to have snacks of some sort. She always does. You boys take care."

The Tropos Liquor store turned out to be fifteen minutes away, and they'd just reached the edge of the parking lot, when the neon store sign blinked twice then went dark. Brian broke into a run, yanked the front door open and disappeared from sight.

"I haven't seen him run that fast since the Lesbians for Liberal Libraries tried to pull him onto their Mary Renault float last year," Ted said laughing.

"Why? What happened?" Justin asked as they entered the store.

"They wanted him to play Bagoas," Michael chuckled.

"The eunuch?" Justin asked in astonishment.

"Yes!" Ted said gleefully. "He didn't stop talking about it for months. Kept saying he was going to sue Tannis for attempted slander and premeditated intent to defame."

Brian turned at the sound of their laughter. "What are you four cackling about?"

"Oh, nothing," Emmett said breezily, "just discussing ancient history."

Just then, Clovis appeared holding up a dusty, green bottle. "Last one," she said setting the fifth of Glenfiddich on the counter. She could've been Moira's twin except that her glasses were tinted dark red, and Justin couldn't tell if her eyes were the same vivid blue as her sister's.

"What can I get you boys?" she asked cheerfully. "Like I was telling your friend here, my inventory's a little low right now. All I have is scotch, beer and Ouzo." She pointed to the lone display in the middle of the store.

"Ooh, Ouzo!" Emmett trilled clapping his hands. "That reminds me of this Greek guy I met in P-town two summers ago. He liked to put those big, black olives in my-"

"Emmett," Ted interrupted smiling brightly at Clovis, "why don't you come help me get the beer?"

"Well, he's certainly colorful," Clovis said watching Ted push Emmett down the nearest aisle toward the coolers.

"A veritable rainbow," Brian agreed.

"Excuse me," Justin asked, "but do you sell anything to eat? Like those summer sausages or maybe some beer nuts?"

Michael gripped Brian's arm in warning and looked attentively at Clovis.

"Sorry, honey. Fresh out of food. But Francis usually has some snacks."

"Yeah, that's what Moira said," Justin said glumly.

"Teenagers," Brian said slapping Justin's back, "they'll eat you out of house and home if you let them."

After Clovis had rung up their purchases, she snapped a leash on the large, yellow dog behind the counter and herded everyone outside so she could lock up.

Brian called shotgun and almost recanted when Aisa, the dog, jumped in after him, settling herself in the middle but mostly favoring Brian's side.

"You're in her seat," Clovis explained, "but I'm sure she doesn't mind sharing."

As Clovis pulled the station wagon out of the parking lot, she suddenly veered too far left and bounced sharply over the curb. "Sorry boys, the rod receptors in my eyes are extra-sensitive to electric light and sometimes it throws my depth perception off."

"My great-aunt Meredith suffered from the exact same thing," Justin said from the back seat. "She swore by Wolfberry and a daily crossword puzzle."

"I tried Wolfberry but it gave me hives," Clovis said, "and I can't do crosswords. I was the first person in the state to be diagnosed with dyslexia."

Shouldering Aisa out of the way, Brian reached down to find his seatbelt. He was still struggling with it when Clovis made a left onto a rough, dirt road that was in near darkness. "We're okay now," she informed them. "I see just fine in the dark. It's those newfangled city lights that give me problems."

They ascended a series of winding turns through an increasingly wooded area, and a few minutes later, rolled to a stop in front of the Willow Tree Inn. True to its name, the small motorcourt motel was fringed by three large willows. It looked like there were only four rooms, the one on the far left obviously the office as its door was paned in glass.

They said goodbye to Clovis and Justin promised to give her sister the message about the upcoming Turnip Festival.

The office was deserted except for a sleek, grey cat fast asleep on the counter next to a tall plant with waxy, orange blooms. Brian hit the bell three times in quick succession and the cat sprang up, ears flat on its head, hissed once and jumped out of sight.

"Brian!" Justin admonished whacking him on the stomach.

"Just testing his reflexes," Brian said and took a sip of scotch. He'd opened the Glenfiddich on the way up the hill and Clovis hadn't said anything about it other than telling them that one of her cousins owned a goat farm near the distillery.

"There you are," Frances said coming through a red, beaded curtain. "Moira said you were on your way." She was identical to her sisters except for her glasses which were clear with scrolled, silver frames.

"I only have two rooms available right now. The third's being treated for mold. It'll be cozy, but you should be fine. So, four adults and a child?" she asked smiling kindly at Justin.

"I'm not a child," Justin said indignantly. "I'll be eighteen in four months."

"Close enough, honey. It's on the house."

"It's your lucky night, Sunshine," Brian said ruffling Justin's hair. "That's fifty bucks less you'll have to pay back." He stepped forward and pulled out his wallet. "Mikey and I will share a room." He ignored Justin's sound of protest. "You three can share the other one."

"You'll need a roll-away bed," Frances said. "The beds are all singles."

Michael laughed and Justin shot him a murderous look.

As she filled out the guest register, Frances said, "we have a pool, if you boys are interested."

"It's October," Ted pointed out.

"It's heated," Frances replied, "on account of my arthritis." She put her pen down and opened a drawer pulling out two keys, each attached to small blocks of wood carved in the shape of willow trees.

"You boys can go swimming naked if you want. Nothing out here but bears and bobcats."

"Bears?" Ted squawked.

"Bobcats?" Emmett gaped looking over his shoulder.

"They won't bother you. Just don't bring any food out to the pool."

"Do they prefer beer or whisky?" Brian asked holding up his packages.

"Neither. But I'd leave the Ouzo in the room if I were you. We had a problem with Peach Schnapps once."

"How did you know I have Ouzo?" Emmett asked.

"May not see so good," Frances said laying a gnarled finger on her nose, "but I smell like a bloodhound."

Emmett checked the bottle and finding it sealed tight, stared back up at Frances.

She held his gaze for a moment, then laughed. "It's the bottle, honey. I recognized the shape through the bag." Her blue eyes twinkled mischievously.

"Uh, Frances," Justin said, "Moira and Clovis said you might have some food. The diner was closed and-"

"Pick your poison. Fig bars or pumpkin bread?"

"One of each?" Justin asked hopefully. "Oh! Clovis said to tell you she's reserved the back field for you at the Turnip Festival."

"Ah. Good." She reached under the counter and brought up a large basket of individually wrapped squares. "How about you boys take the whole thing. Just remember, don't bring it out to the pool."

Justin took the basket and immediately unwrapped one of the fig bars, eating it in two bites. "Thank you," he mumbled as he chewed, "it's really good."

"Give us some of those before you inhale them all," Michael said grabbing some of the snacks. "See you guys at the pool," he called out and followed Brian out the door.

After helping Emmett and Justin maneuver the roll-away into their room, Ted left to join Michael and Brian at the pool. It was the first time Justin had been alone with Emmett since they'd left New York, and he told him what Brian had said hoping for some advice.

"I think he means it, Em. He said that when we get back to Pittsburgh, I need to start a new life without him. He said I need to find someone my own age." Justin dropped miserably onto his bed, head in his hands. "What am I going to do? I don't want anyone else. I want him."

"You and half the Keystone state," Emmett sighed and sat down next to Justin. "Here, have some of this," Emmett said passing him the Ouzo. "But if you tell anyone I gave you alcohol, I'll deny it on Judy's grave."

Justin took a tentative swallow. "Mmm," he said smiling happily, "licorice." He took several more sips then handed the bottle back. "So, what should I do?"

"One thing's for sure. The harder you chase, the faster he'll run."

"I know, but it's like I can't help myself."

"Well, starting right now, you're going to change your strategy. You're going to outfox the fox. Think you can do it?"

"Yeah," Justin said squaring his shoulders and standing up.

"That's the spirit! Now, get out there and show me what you can do. And remember, he just crossed two state lines for you. That's nothing to sneeze at."

"Actually," Justin said, "if you count the round trip, he really crossed four."

They drank a toast to that, grabbed some towels and went out to the pool to put Justin's plan into action.

The pool was set in a thicket of evergreens, the shadows beneath their lowest boughs deepest black. The only light came from the pool and the crescent moon hanging in the midnight sky. Ted, Michael and Brian were at a table on the far side, nearly invisible under the shade of the large umbrella.

"So, is anyone going in?" Emmett called out gaily, crouching by the pool's edge to trail a hand in the water. "Ooh, toasty. Come on honey, it's divine." He shimmied out of his clothes and jumped in, feet first, holding his nose.

Justin took his time. He untied his sneakers instead of kicking them off. He pulled the orange sweatshirt over his head and folded it carefully. He unbuttoned his fly leisurely, stopping twice to scratch his foot. Then, wearing nothing but his white, cotton briefs, he walked across the pool deck, making sure to stay in the moonlight.

"I'm leaving my clothes here," he said piling his things on the empty chair next to Michael. "I don't want them getting wet."

"You're going to catch your death standing around like that," Brian said silkily.

"I'm not cold," Justin said and took off his underwear. "It feels good." Standing at the pool's edge, he dipped a toe to test the temperature, stretched his arms overhead for several seconds then dove, cutting the water like a knife.

The three men watched silently as Justin swam the length of the pool underwater, frog-kicking the whole way, backlit by blue, shimmering light.

Michael cleared his throat. "Remember that summer we went up to Lake Arthur and you beat that local that challenged you to a race?"

Brian didn't answer. Justin was floating on his back in the deep end, talking with Emmett and laughing over some private joke.

"I think I'll go join them," Ted said and drained his beer. He stripped hurriedly then splashed down the pool steps still in his boxers. Brian snorted and opened another beer.

"Brian, did you hear what I said?" Michael asked waving his hand in front of Brian's face.

"Yeah, Mikey," Brian said. "That was a great trip." He stood up and crushed out his cigarette. "Come on, let's go swimming."

"I don't feel like it," Michael said crossing his arms and staring at the water.

Brian shrugged and removed his clothes in three graceful moves.

Justin had drifted to the middle of the pool, steering himself through the water with occasional flicks of his hands. The hair at his groin was dark and his dick bobbed gently on the surface, rose-colored and slightly filled.

Brian kicked lazily out to where Justin floated and without preamble hauled him out of the water. "You think you're so clever, don't you?" he whispered in Justin's ear. "Well, you're not. Your attempt at seduction is pathetically transparent."

"Not everything is about you, Brian," Justin said scornfully and broke free, gliding away before Brian could come after him again.

"Since when?" Brian laughed and swam over to Michael to get his beer.

"You're not supposed to have glass in a pool," Michael said.

"It's safer to have the bottle in the water than on the deck," Justin called out from the deep end. "The law of buoyancy applies, but of course a lot depends on the weight of the immersed material."

"You heard young Poindexter here, give me my beer."

Lips pressed in a thin line, Michael handed Brian the beer and returned to his seat.

Justin decided it was the perfect time to make his exit and walked up the steps smiling at Brian as he went. He dried his hair quickly, wrapped the towel around his waist, grabbed his things and went to wait for Emmett by the deep end.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Emmett let out a small cheer and hugged Justin tightly. "Way to go, baby! Always leave them wanting more!"

They were still celebrating when Ted came back, half-drunk and stumbling. He complained about the lack of his electric toothbrush, slid off his soggy underwear, put on his pajamas and passed out.

"Well, honey," Emmett said corking the bottle, "it's time for this girl's beauty rest. But first, I need a shower. Chlorine dries my skin out something awful."

He kissed Justin good night and went into the bathroom.

Shortly after Emmett turned on the water, Justin heard Michael and Brian come back and go into their room. Five minutes later, Justin heard their door open again.

He held his breath and waited, sure that it was Brian. But nothing happened. Unable to stand it any longer, he got up and peeked through the curtains but didn't see him. He glanced toward the bathroom. Emmett was still in the shower. He thought about everything they'd discussed. His strategy for the future. The problem was, right now, he didn't give a fuck about the future. It was the present that was imperative.

He found Brian at the vending machine, drinking a bottle of water.

"Hi," Justin said casually. "I had a craving for a soda." He faced the machine and pretended to study its contents.

"It usually works better if you put money in," Brian said, a trace of amusement in his voice.

"Uh, can I borrow a dollar? I forgot my change."

"Sure, what's another dollar?" He handed Justin a single and watched him choose an Orange Fanta.

"Is the roll-away comfortable?" Brian asked clearly enjoying himself.

"I think it has bed bugs."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I saw something huge with lots of legs, but when I tried to kill it, it scurried back into the ticking."

"Ticking?" Brian laughed out loud. "How Dickensian. By the way, whiz kid, bed bugs are the size of apple seeds."

"Maybe it was a tarantula," Justin said quickly.

"If you want me to fuck you," Brian said splaying a hand on Justin's chest and pushing him into the vending machine, "just say so."

But Justin didn't want to say so. He wanted Brian to say so. Their faces were inches apart, and Justin was vaguely aware of the machine's electric hum at his back, of the tap, tap, tap of the moth circling the overhead light.

Brian moved closer and Justin stared, mesmerized. Before he could stop himself, he said, "Your right eye. It's browner than your left."

"Browner?" Brian snorted and slid his hand into Justin's sweats, squeezed his balls briefly then pressed a single finger to the underside of his right testicle. "And did you know that you have a little, brown mole right here?"

Justin lunged forward trying to kiss him, but Brian held him off and continued to stroke the velvety spot.

"Well, do you?"

"Do I what?" Justin asked dazedly.

"Know that you have a brown mole," Brian stopped stroking and pushed, "right here?"

"Yeah," Justin said breathlessly.

"When did you first look?"

"When I was . . . fourteen, no . . . thirteen."

"Tell me," Brian breathed against his cheek and resumed his stroking.

"I . . . uh . . . got my mom's makeup mirror . . . it had lights and . . . and I looked at myself in my bathroom."

"What else did you see?"

"Uh . . . I have a small, purple . . . birth mark just inside . . . my left ass cheek."

"It's raspberry-colored," Brian whispered and Justin started to shiver. "So, do you want to?"

"Want to what?" Justin asked desperately.

"Fuck. Do you want to fuck?"

"Yes," Justin nodded frantically. "Yes!" He reached up and grabbed Brian's neck yanking him down and this time Brian allowed it.

When they broke apart, Brian said, "now that wasn't so hard, was it? Come on."

At the door to Brian's room, Justin stopped, hanging back. "Wait. What about Michael?"

"What about him?"

"He's in there."

"Don't worry about Mikey. He's been watching me have sex since we were fifteen. Besides, he's passed out. We'll just have to be quiet," Brian said tugging Justin forward. "It'll be hot." He opened the door, careful not to make any noise, and Justin saw that Michael was indeed asleep.

"See?" Brian whispered.

Hurrying, Justin crossed to Brian's bed and got under the covers to take his clothes off. He watched as Brian undressed then searched through his overnight bag for supplies before coming back to stand next to the bed to roll his condom on and slick himself. When he was done, he held the lube out, silently offering it. But Justin shook his head no, he wanted to feel it.

Brian entered him immediately, and Justin quickly realized he wouldn't be able to keep quiet. Not the way Brian was fucking him. Not the way he was being split apart. At some point, he became aware of the headboard hitting the wall and made an attempt to stop it, but it was useless. Brian was fucking him too hard.

"Turn sideways," Justin panted, pushing at Brian's chest.

Without missing a stroke, Brian repositioned them and during the shift, Justin saw that Michael was stirring and starting to sit up.

"He's awake," Justin hissed, trying to wriggle out from under Brian's body.

But Brian was having none of it and reached up to tighten his grasp on Justin's shoulders, forcing him back down onto his dick. Caught between Brian's powerful grip and his cock, Justin gave up trying to escape.

"Fucking Christ, Brian," Michael said furiously, "I'm trying to sleep here!"

"And we're trying," Brian grunted in between thrusts, "to fuck."

"Can't you do it somewhere else?" Michael grumbled.

"Just enjoy the show, Mikey."

There was no answer and Justin decided he didn't care if Michael was there or not. He wanted this fuck and wasn't about to let anyone take it away from him. Wrapping his legs higher, he opened himself so Brian could fuck him as hard as he wanted and when he came, he tried to keep from crying out, but it was impossible when he was being turned inside out . . . inside out . . . inside out.

After they'd recovered and settled down for the night, Brian ran his hand down Justin's stomach, murmuring in his ear, "did you get enough to eat?"

"Yeah," Justin whispered snuggling closer, "I got plenty."

The next morning they woke up to the sound of Michael banging around the bathroom. Groaning, Justin put a pillow over his head, but Brian sat up when Michael came out. "Hey, Mikey, the second feature is scheduled to start in a few minutes, but if you didn't like the art direction last night, you might want to leave the theater."

"Asshole," Michael said grabbing his bag and slamming out of the room.

After their encore, they found Emmett, Ted and Michael in the office, eating muffins and drinking coffee.

"We missed you last night, honey," Emmett said and handed Justin a blueberry muffin.

"I know," Justin said sheepishly. "It got late and I didn't want to wake you."

"But you didn't mind waking me, did you? "Oh, Brian, oh, Brian, fuck me, fuck me," Michael mocked in a bad falsetto.

"You gave quite a performance yourself," Brian said, hand at his crotch fisting an imaginary cock.

"I did not!" Michael said hotly but the tell-tale blush racing up his neck spoke otherwise.

"Honey," Emmett said patting Michael's knee, "who wouldn't?"

On the pretense of getting more coffee, Justin crossed to the small buffet area, hand at his mouth to suppress his laughter. He nearly dropped his cup when he felt something rubbing against his legs.

"He likes you," Frances said smiling warmly. "Greymalkin's a finicky cat, but he likes you."

Setting down his cup, Justin kneeled to scratch Greymalkin between his ears. "And I like him too."

Frances rested her hand on Justin's shoulder for a moment then turned to the group near the fireplace. "Well boys, Morrigan just called to let me know he's on his way from Carlisle. As soon as you're done, I'll take you down to Phantom's."

After the Jeep had been hooked up to the tow truck, Frances gave them a ride to the garage, and two hours later they were on their way home.

Justin kept sneaking glances at Brian in the rear view mirror, but couldn't tell if Brian was looking at him or not because of his sunglasses. Finally, lulled by the quiet conversation and the sound of the highway, he fell asleep, head pillowed on Emmett's shoulder, the blue, furry jacket comforting against his cheek.

They reached Pittsburgh at sunset and Justin woke in time to see high cirrus clouds streaking purple and gold across an orange sky. He glanced at the rear view mirror and was startled to find Brian watching him. He'd taken off his glasses. For the last few miles of their journey, they watched each other in the mirror. Brian looking back and Justin looking forward; their gaze meeting somewhere in the middle.

A week later, Justin left the diner intent on finding Mysterious Marilyn. He'd been searching the various bars on the avenue every night since his return, but she'd been nowhere to be found. Tonight, one of his customers had mentioned that he'd seen her at Woody's.

He found her in one of the back booths. "Hi. I'm-"

"Justin. I know." She waved a freshly manicured hand. "Sit."

Justin did and slid a twenty across the table, hoping it was enough. It'd better be. It was half his night's tips and he wasn't willing to part with a penny more.

"Small potatoes compared to what you would've made at Liquid." Marilyn smiled, her teeth even and white. "But this is where you belong. For now."

"What do you mean? For now?"

"You'll go back to New York one day. Great artists always do."

"What about Brian?"

"Oh, he'll bitch and moan and spout a bunch of cryptic nonsense."

"Yeah," Justin laughed. "And then?" He leaned forward, hands clasped tightly.

"Then it'll be deja vu all over again."

Justin thought about that then asked, "Did you know about the alternator?"

"How are Frances and her sisters?"

"They're fine," Justin grinned.

They contemplated each other across the table, smiling and nodding and after a short while, Justin asked, "is there anything else you can tell me?"

"I've probably told you too much already. It's never a good idea to mess with fate."

"Thank you, then," Justin said and shook her hand.

Marilyn watched him make his way through the crowded bar, open the door and step out into the night. "That Kinney bastard's right about one thing," she said out loud to no one in particular, "that boy really is a prince."


*Twilight Time lyrics from the song of the same name by The Platters.

End