Pitsburgh & New York_Fall 2008
It isn’t as if the emails ever really stop, they don’t. It’s just that over time, over the first year, then over the second, and finally into the third, the emails gradually become less frequent, become less informative about the things that really matter, become somehow less significant. Brain still periodically sends his missives into the ether, but their urgency decreases over time. Because of Mark and Kenneth and especially because of Jayden, Brain becomes more at ease with himself and his place in the world. And so, since he hasn’t yet found another way of talking to Justin in the middle of the night, for a time, Brian becomes quieter.
And it isn’t as if the visits ever really stop, they don’t either. It’s just that over that same time, the time between each becomes longer, less time spent together, more time spent apart with even what little time they do have for each other becoming somehow less meaningful, less about them and more about events and projects and those Altman-like moments of the entire family coming together. Because, after all, isn’t this the time when Justin is supposed to learn how to fly on his own, the time when he’s supposed to come out from under Brian’s wing and stretch his own? This is the time when he’s supposed to learn how to become true to himself and he obviously can’t very well be doing all that if he’s only using his wings to flying back to Pittsburgh. So, he doesn’t. For a time, Pittsburgh becomes very back-burner.
And it isn’t as if the sex, the passion, the love between them ever fades. If anything all of that only grows deeper, becomes even more precious because of its very unpredictability.
So, as Brian and Justin learn, or maybe only remember that time changes people and time apart changes them even more, they both, in dealing with the realities of time and distance each in his own way, change. It happens.
Since Brian is a more formed, a more complete, a more finished personality, whether for better or for worse, when Justin leaves, he changes less, just less in every way. There are simply less ways for him to change. He does step-it back a little from the life he’d been living with Justin. But he can’t take it back to the way he’d been living before Justin. Brian has learned too much, seen too much, felt too much to ever go back to his old way of life. In their five years together, Justin has taught him too much in and fuck-all if he hasn’t actually learned. Maybe not everything. Maybe he wasn’t even supposed to. But most of it, the vast majority of it, he has.
But since he’s young, Justin is different, less formed and for the first time, truly free. Consequently, for better or worse, there are just so many more ways for him to change. There’d just have to be. Justin needs his time to make mistakes and to learn from them. Just as Brian has had. Just as most all of us have.
Once, Brian had challenged Justin to be the best gay man he could be, to forget about Dartmouth, and to instead follow his dreams of art school, and of New York. And so, now that that is exactly what Justin is doing, Brian being Brian, he lets him go knowing he’ll be around to help when necessary, but only when absolutely necessary. No one had helped him, no one had made the struggle any easier for him when he was young and the learning that had come with that struggle has allowed him to become the man he is. Justin deserves as much. Brian lets go and he watches. He stands back and he watches as Justin learns to fly.
To soar, yes. But to also tumble and fall and, ultimately, the way in which he will deal with this kind of change will be one of Brian’s most precious gifts to Justin.
Because slowly over the first year and into the second, in ways unimportant like how he looks or how he dresses, becoming more urban, more aware of himself and how he moves in the world, Justin does change. And also in ways very important like how he strengthens his commitment, his approach to his art. The point for his move to New York, after all, but still, at his core, Justin remains essentially the same. For those first couple of years anyway.
Yet, and almost from the beginning, Brian notices that certain names repeat themselves for some reasonable amount of time. Knowing that this is to be expected, Brian is prepared. Justin is different than he is and away from his constant influence, Justin develops vaguely stable relationships. Mostly they are friends like: Jake or Allen. But every once in a while someone like say Jameson Alden will evolve into, will actually attain a kind of boyfriend status and Brian can always tell when and who.
At the beginning of the third year though, Justin begins changing in ways that make Brian a little uneasy, in ways that Brian simply doesn’t expect or understand. It’s then that even that core of Justin, the essential part of who he really is, also begins to shift. Justin seems off somehow, as if moving away, distant, and everyone in their Pittsburgh family knows it. Occasions Justin never would have missed in the first or second years, he does. Holidays, birthdays, whatever. Not all of course, but enough for everyone to notice. And instead of answering emails or phone calls right away like he once did, now he puts them off. Even to Jennifer. Even to Molly. It is commonly understood, if not talked about all that directly, that Justin is starting more and more to stay out-of-touch.
And when anyone does talk, email, or whatever with him, Justin is now always tired, frequently distracted, often moody. When questioned, Justin reminds them that, after all, isn’t he working two part-time jobs and taking one or two night classes at NYU? Isn’t he doing all that plus trying to maintain his painting schedule and keeping up his end of Rage? Justin stresses to whoever expresses concern that all of that would make anyone tired or distracted or moody. He emphasizes how necessary every bit of all of that is. Since, after all, it is his 2 jobs, mornings at the little ahead-of-its-time art gallery and afternoons at the pays-for-shit art store with the great employee discount, that covers his share of the divided-by-two fifth-floor walkup and the divided-by-five art studio dive. His Rage ‘the comic’ earnings and his Rage ‘the not-movie’ savings pay for everything else including NYU. He can’t just drop everything and leave whenever he wants or answer his phone or jump on his computer just like that. That he has ‘other obligations’ now became his constant refrain.
At just twenty-five, he is already sounding more and more stressed, more and more angry, more vaguely out-of-control because Justin apparently believes he should be doing better by now, should be doing more, selling more, creating more, experiencing more. Just doing more of everything, really. Now! Now! Now! Brian assures Justin that he is doing quite well, reminding him that he’s only been at it for just over three years and that artists sometimes work for decades before achieving the level of success they desire. Brian reminds Justin that maybe it would be best if he just lighten-the-fuck up a little.
But Brian can always tell the instant Justin tunes him out, when Justin’s decided he just doesn’t want to hear any more of his bullshit. Justin’s discouragement is affecting his judgment and it isn’t as if Brian doesn’t notice, he does believing this change, this shift in what is essential in Justin, all revolves around his dissatisfaction with the seeming slowness of his rise to fame. This much Brian believes, truly feels he understands, but the extent of the situation or how, if necessary, he should deal with it, that Brian doesn’t understand. And so, in keeping with his interfere-as-little-as-possible, avoid-conflict-whenever-possible philosophy, he waits and he nervously watches. Always from afar.
Yet Brian knows, believes, feels, more than he lets on. Justin is hanging around with a singer in a local band. Punks all in black with kohled eyes and with neon-colored streaks in their hair and neon-colored ties to match. Brian’s unconscious self does make that connection while his conscious self doesn’t. Not really. He knows only that the singer sings in the kind of band that plays in the kind of clubs where art students from NYU gather on Friday and Saturday nights. Small, dark places in vaguely run-down parts of the city, places that probably make them feel a little defiant, maybe even just a little bit dangerous. Brian knows that much and the guy’s name: Jaxon. A name that has already repeated itself for far longer then could be considered a reasonable amount of time, from one month to the next and to the next, for at least a year. Maybe more. Probably more. If Brian would only have asked him, Justin could have told him that he met Jaxon and his band at Lindsay’s gallery opening in Toronto well over a year ago. Jake and Lauren had put Lindsay on to them and liking their music, she told them that if they could make it up to Toronto, she’d feed them, put them up, and pay them semi-decently. So they had. Unfortunately for Brian, he never will ask so Justin, not unreasonable, will never tell him. One day Jaxon will though, but not Justin.
Still, to the point at hand, Brian only hears about the music, the venues, the people, through Justin. He doesn’t actually know because, whenever he visits, Justin declines, almost harshly, to take him there. And yet Brian still chooses not to push it. Since he already feels Justin moving away and since he doesn’t want to alienate him even further, he lets it go. Maybe not his best decision because in this singer, in this Jaxon, Brian would have found, had he not just let it go, the remoteness Justin has put between himself and Pittsburgh. In this singer Brian would have found the heart of much of Justin’s new reality, if only he’d pushed it. But Brian does what he thinks is right, which is nothing. And even if he is, in some real way, taking the easy way out, the path of least confrontation, his usual, since Justin has always come around before, no need to think he won’t now. Brian decides, not unreasonably, to give Justin a little more time.
On the positive side, it was in the middle of the third year that Justin starts selling and not just a couple of paintings here and there like he had been, although still certainly not at the level of an artist who doesn’t need a day job or two. But more and more and with a kind of consistency that the others around him, Jake, Lauren, Allen, can only admire, perhaps even envy. Justin is becoming real, is finally evolving a style that is distinctively his own, the beginnings, the baby-step beginnings, toward his mature style. And while there still is a great deal of what he’d experienced in Pittsburgh rendered in paint on his canvases, more and more there is also a new kind of imagery depicted. His work has taken on a deeper, a more developed kind of gritty, blatant, in-your-face, fuck-all New York attitude that resonates well with the young up-and-comers, the next generation of movers-and-shakers, the denizens of late-night arty dance clubs. Sending a vibration tripping through them that resonates profoundly, that they all understand instinctively so, they begin to collect him. Initially, small-time. But still, a start.
Brian is proud, somewhat relieved, but he is also still a little afraid because with the end of the third year, he knows that their two little once-intertwined worlds have nearly unwoven themselves. It isn’t only about Justin’s stress, his drive to succeed. There’s more to it, and Brian has no idea what to do about it. Distracted himsel with the everyday ins-and-outs of BabylonPITTSBURGH and Kinnetik, he, really not all that unreasonably, lets things slide.
Still, with his unconscious gnawing at his busy busy conscious, Brian does talk with Jennifer, taking her to lunch at the diner, but after much debate between them, after really actually getting nowhere, with nothing resolved, they decide that since Just has always been such a level-headed young man, that what they should do is stand back just a little while longer and see what happens. So they do. Maybe not their best decision, but really, they can only do what they think is best with what little information that’s been given to them.
Still, sometimes even someone’s best isn’t quite good enough and so that’s why Brian now finds himself with Jennifer, on a flight bound for New York on what had otherwise been a fairly quiet, a very ordinary Monday morning. Because sometimes someone’s very best just isn’t quite good enough. Live and learn.
He'd arrived at Kinneti early, at 7:30am, in order to give himself plenty of time to review the files for his 9:00am and 12:30pm meetings both with A-List clients. A rosy glow had shown through his office window as he’d sat on his black leather couch, files opened before him on the plate glass-and-chrome coffee table, his espresso, triple-shot with steam rising, waiting within reach. His world had been in perfect order when, without warning, Cynthia had appeared at his open door. He’d sensed her presence, not much more. Still, she’d leaned in the doorway, hesitating. Why hadn’t she just come in?
“Brian…?” Cynthia had started, but then, had stopped.
Without looking up, he hadn’t even looked up at her, he’d said, “Cynthia, I told you, no phone calls, no interruptions. I need this time to…” but when he finally had glanced at her, when he’d finally seen her slight trembling, when he’d realized, suddenly understanding her fear, he’d switched gears. “What? What’s wrong, Cynthia? What the fuck’s going on?” Still, she hadn’t answered him, her eyes darting everywhere around the room. Everywhere but at him. “Cynthia NOW.”
“Jennifer Taylor just called,” Cynthia had said. “She’s hysterical. She’s on her way over here to get you. Brian, Justin, he…he’s over-dosed, I don’t know on what, early this morning at some club or warehouse somewhere. He’s at St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital in stable condition, but unconscious. She wants you to come with her to New York.” Still, Cynthia hadn’t move. Her trembling hadn’t stopped, but at least her gaze had steadied.
He’d taken in the information calmly; staying focused enough to ask if Jennifer had made any flight arrangements.
“No, I told her I would. Flight and hotel.”
“Good, good. Thank you, and…and please….”
“Brian, of course, of course I’ll reschedule the entire week. I’ll explain that you’ve had a family emergency, which you have. But you promise me, Brian, you promise me you’ll let me know what’s going on, how he is, okay?” Tears had edged her words.
“I will, of course I will,” Still, he hadn’t moved. He’d sat quietly, the files still on the table in front of him, his espresso still hot, looking vaguely around his office, wondering how things that, just a few moments ago, had seemed so familiar, had suddenly all seemed so strange. How had that happened? Realizing that all that strangeness had happened because, apparently while he’d been asleep early this morning, Justin had been over-dosing, that while he slept Justin could have died and so, nothing seemed quite real anymore. He’d shuddered, he remembered shuddering realizing that he and Jennifer hadn’t really known what was going on even when they’d thought they had. It appeared that they had stood back a little too far, for a little too long. And because of their indecision, Justin could have died.
“C’mon, Brian, you need to get ready,” Cynthia, finally entering, had said bringing him out of his thoughts. “Jennifer will be here soon and you need to get ready. Go get your overnight bag, it’s in the closet, get your overcoat, it’s on the coat rack, take a minute to think about what you’ll need. I have to make the arrangements. I’ll book two connecting suites at the Hilton, alright? C’mon get up, Brian, you need to get ready. Alright?”
“Yeah, sure, alright,” he’d said as he’d gotten up and gone over to his closet but, of course, it hadn’t been alright. Nothing had been alright. All he’d wanted, in that moment, was to go back to his files and his espresso and his very ordinary Monday morning, but since that had become no longer an option, he’d made sure that with Cynthia’s help, he was ready when Jennifer had arrived. Cynthia had just finished printing out their boarding passes; they would fly-out of Pittsburgh International in an hour and a half, not that much later really then when his 9:00am meeting should have started. If only his ordinary Monday had remained ordinary.
The cab ride and the wait in the terminal had both been done in a silence, a silence only periodically broken when Jennifer, having contacted the hospital, would tell him…no change…no change…there hadn’t been any change. Otherwise, they had little to say to each other and the silence that had settled between them had been fine because, numb anyway, their silence had become just another part of this unordinary day.
But then, all during the flight, his mind was in chaos. Why hadn’t he remembered, it was the ones who thought they were in total control who almost always fucked up the worst, because they believed they could handle anything, that since they were level-headed, invincible, too smart to fail, they almost always did. What they didn’t get was that no one was invincible, too smart, too in control. And that included Justin. How had he forgotten that? And now Justin would have to learn the hard way because he had stood back just a little too far, had waited for just a little too long. Because somehow he’d forgotten what it really meant to be young.
Justin’s first two years away should have been the hardest, adjusting to the changes, the distance, the different cultural, the new people, to really being on his own. But it had been in his third year, once he’d felt at home in New York, settled and a part of everything, once he’d started to make it, that he’d let go. Once he’d felt safe, Justin had let his guard down, had trusted people he shouldn’t have and that he’d o.d.’ed in some undoubtedly skank club had been the end result. All this had something to do with that guy, that fuck, Jaxon. Hanging around with that little fucker could have cost Justin his life. Once everything was settled, once Justin was okay, he’d find him and make him understand just how really badly he’d messed-up. His mind settled a little then, having someone else to blame felt good, having someone else to pin this on other than himself felt just fine. Plus, sitting next to Jennifer, one hour into their one and a half hour flight, he knew what he had to do.
He had to get serious and put his business plans for his next club in New York into high gear.
Once they’d landed, they caught a cab to St. Vincent’s and, after the requisite bullshit who’s-what-to-who hospital check-in and after they were further reassured that since Justin had been brought in quickly there wouldn’t be any permanent damage, that the harsh reality was that Justin was one very lucky young man, they were taken to his room and told that a doctor would be with them shortly. For a moment they both stood, right inside the door, near to each other for support, just looking at him lying in the hospital bed, just taking him in, unable to move, only barely able to breath, wondering how the hell it had all come to this.
“You Brian?” A quiet voice from behind them startled them. “I know you must be Justin’s mom, Jennifer, right? Pretty name, but are you…you must be Brian, right” The very tired voice continued from its place within the very small, the very young man who, curled tight into himself, sat in an uncomfortable chair in a dark corner of Justin’s room just as far from his bed, and from him, as possible. “He’s been…asking for you, saying your name…in…in his sleep, I guess. And I’ve been waiting for…for you.”
Realizing how scared, scared of him, scared of Jennifer, scared of what was happening to Justin, the kid was, Brian was amazed that he was even still here, that he’d stayed even when it would have been so much easier for him to have run. Turning from Jaxon, Brian knew him to be Jaxon, and toward Justin, he watched as Jennifer slowly approached her son and, taking her place beside his bed, he listened as she softly murmured words only the two of them could hear.
“They told you he’d be alright, they did, didn’t they? the kid asked, maintaining his voice at the level of a whisper. “That’s what they told me. That…that he’ll be okay. They told me that I got him here fast enough, right? And that nothing bad’ll happen…right? They told you the same, right? Didn’t they? That he’s just like…sedated?”
“Yeah, yeah, just calm down. They told us he‘ll be alright, no thanks to you, right?” So hard to let go of even misplaced anger. “You’re Jaxon, right?”
Brian stood like a statue, stranded between a kid curled into a chair and a mother with her only son lying unconscious in a hospital bed. “I somehow knew you’d be involved in this.”
“Did you? Well, fine…whatever. Forget it, alright. Just forget I was ever here. They let me stay ‘til you guys came, don’t know why, but they said I could stay with him until his family came and now you have so, I‘ll just make myself scarce and then you--”
“Wait. Just…wait.” Brian turned toward him as Jaxon froze, curling even tighter into his little ball of fear. “Just relax and tell me how long you’ve been here? When did you bring him in?”
“What time is it?”
Brian looked at his watch. “Noon. Around noon.”
“Uh, then seven hours, I guess. They brought him here around 5:00, 5:30 this morning. At first he was in another part of this place, they wouldn’t let me go with him there, but then they brought him here, so…yeah, been here long enough to drink a lot of shit coffee and to think a lot. A lot.”
Brian took a step toward him. “Thinking it was your fault?”
“Yeah, maybe and how maybe it was his and yours too. That maybe we’re all a part of what went wrong last night and--”
“We need to talk.” Realizing Jaxon was about to cry, Brian stopped him. “Wait for me outside.”
“About what?” Finally leaving the relative security of his chair, Jaxon stood, light on his feet, ready to run. “About what? About last night? Because, I don’t know what happened I swear I swear I swear. I was watching him as best I could, but I had to work. I--”
“Just go outside and don’t run. I’m not going to hurt you even if on the way here, I’ve got to tell you, the thoughts that were running through--”
“Yeah, I’m sure, I’m just sure. Now how many ways are there to kill somebody, right? Look, I’ll go and I won‘t run, what‘d be the point? You‘d just hunt me down anyway, right? And actually, believe it or not, I want to talk to you, so…I won’t run.” With quick glances toward Justin, Jaxon walked slowly to the door as if unsure he’d ever see him again.
“Look, you can visit, if Jennifer agrees and if Justin wants to see you, but I’m here now so….”
“I got that, I know you‘re here now. Just tell me please, when weren’t you?” And with that, he was gone.
Now Brian hesitated, turning from the door toward Jennifer and Justin, he hesitated as he listened to the words she whispered to her son, questioning him…why why why? Questions with no answers. At least not yet. Jennifer just kept on asking him why, Justin? please baby why? why would you do this? how did this happen? please tell me it was a mistake. Justin, please.” Questions that couldn’t be answered. At least not yet.
Moving closer, his hand gentle on her back, Brian took in Justin. Nothing looked wrong, but everything was. Realizing that even though he’d just gotten there, he had to get out if only for just for a little while, he said, “I’ll give you some privacy, Jen. See what I can find out from this guy. You’ll be alright?” Looking up to him, her eyes soft with tears, but also with a slight smile, Jennifer said yes without saying a word and so, he left. But not before pressing a soft kiss to Justin’s temple, murmuring. “Everything’s going to be alright, Justin. We’re here now.”
Brian found Jaxon pacing just outside.
He stopped when he saw Brian. “There’s a vending machine at the end of the hall with the for-shit coffee I mentioned earlier. Want some?”
And without meaning to Brian smiled…slightly. “Sure.”
Jaxon left, but was back in only a minute with two lidded Styrofoam cups. They sat on two hard plastic chairs, with one chair between them, in the over-lit corridor, all tiled white and gleaming clean, in a way that allowed them to talk to each other without actually having to look at each other. Each slowly, carefully sipping his coffee waiting to see what the other would do. He could practically feel the panic running wild through the kid’s mind, his tired nervous energy coming off of him in sharp little waves, tentative, unsure. He almost felt sorry for him because he was beginning to understand, from the way Jaxon was acting around him, that as much as he may have wanted Justin, Justin had never been his and never would be. And yet he’d stayed. When it would have been so easy for him to run away, he’d stayed.
As if reading his mind, Jaxon said, “I thought I had a chance with him, for a while anyway. I actually thought, well…but I…I realized soon enough I never really would, that no matter how far he wandered from you, he’d always find his way back, y’know? He’d always come home. I even wrote a song about him, about…us.” He made a small hand-motion that included Brian as part of ‘us’. “Maybe nine months ago and now, ironically, it’s one of our ‘biggest’ hits. Oh yay!!” Softly chuckling, gazing around the busy corridor, he continued, “But I think all that with me just made him feel guilty, like he was playing me when he wasn’t, not really. But I don’t think he could get past it, made him feel bad, real bad sometimes, but he wouldn’t walk away either. You’d’ve thought he would’ve just left me, but he didn’t. And I couldn’t leave him either.” He gave a little shrug like not completely understanding it himself, except maybe a little. “And don’t think I’m kidding myself that I was the only reason he didn’t move on. It was everything, the other guys in the band, the clubs we played, our ‘fans’, just all of it. He became a part of us, y’know? In fact, it was actually a couple of our regulars that first started buying his work way back when and the word just spread from there.”
“You have had a lot of coffee, haven’t you?” Brian smirked.
“I have, haven’t I?” Jaxon confirmed.
“You and Justin have been hanging around…?”
‘Maybe a year and a half, maybe a little more. Not much more.”
“And you met how?”
“Well, at first because of that thing in Toronto, you were there, remember? Ms. Peterson hired us after we got recommended by a couple of Justin’s friends, you know, Jakey and Lauren. Me and Justin, we talked then, but not much and when you showed up, well, that was, as they say, that. Once we were all safely ensconced back here, he started turning up at our gigs, first with ‘Jak-ren’, then without them. That’s it. That simple.”
“And you love him.”
“And he loves you, so…not one of my better moves. But I just couldn’t seem to help myself.”
“He has that effect on people, I should know because, while it may have taken him a couple of years, he finally wore me down much to my continuing amazement.”
“Probably took him a few days to wear me down but…whatever.”
“Can I ask, how old are you?”
He hesitated, “Twenty-one.”
“Well, I ought to know my…oh alright…20. Why?”
“You seem wise for your years.”
I am wise for my years, I’ve been around and don’t smirk, I have been. My brother, he had a band when I was a kid and I would sing with them sometimes, like from when I was around ten or so. I started with these guys, this band when I was fifteen. I’ve grown-up in this business, well, on the outermost fringes of this business, anyway and I have grown-up on the unruly streets of this city. Literally, a lot of the time so, yeah, I am wise and I just want you and his mom to understand, please, he didn’t mean to do this. He’s just been a little crazy lately.”
“Maybe, like I said, the guilt. Beyond that, don’t really know--”
“Take a guess.” Hesitating like maybe he was betraying Justin’s trust, like maybe none of this was really his business to talk about, Brian pushed a little. “We don’t know for sure, Jaxon, do we, that this wasn’t intentional?”
He had been sitting quiet in his chair, hands in his lap, his eyes down, but now Jaxon looked straight at him. “Yeah we do, Brian, I know and it wasn’t.”
“Then, if you have reasons why he’s been a little crazy lately, you need to talk to me.”
“Yeah…okay. There’s also, well…lately he has been acting like he has something to prove, like sometimes he‘s not sure if he really belongs here. You know, he’d sometimes get hit with that elitist bullshit like since you‘re not from here, you’re not from anywhere, right? He’s told you about that, right? Them, some of them, sometimes fucking with him because his from, y’know, Pittsburgh.”
“Huh. You hesitated, why?”
“Doesn’t matter, continue.”
“Yes sir. I will, sir. Anyway…sir, there’s also the idea that you’d think that him starting to achieve success would lessen the stress but somehow success breeds a need for more and greater success and so, more stress ensues. Strange, right? But, the one thing that would always make him feel alright was talking about you. How’m I doin?’
“You’re doing fine. How would that make you feel?”
“For Shit, sir. Which brings us happily right back to the guilt. But still, he explained how he’d made a BIG mistake with Jameson, who I’ve met by the-by, and that he was determined to not fuck-it-up again. Honesty being the very best of all polices. Once again, oh yay! But I don’t even know why you’re asking ‘cause how I feel doesn’t really matter, now does it? Sorry…sorry, I’m tired. Point is, I just wanted to make sure you and his mom weren’t thinking that this was anything but what it is, an accident. He obviously did take something, K or something, even maybe a little too much, he does sometimes. Stress stress stress. Or maybe somebody spiked his drink, I don’t know. I really don’t. I told him it wasn’t any good him taking shit the way he does, but he’d just tell me that he was a big boy and that I should mind my own business. I just wish I would’ve spent more time with him last night; we played almost ‘til dawn--”
”Where can you play almost until dawn?”
“Old warehouses, basically abandoned, different ones used only for this kind of stuff anymore. Party goes on all weekend with whatever drugs or alcohol you want, whatever you can get. Justin never went totally crazy, because well…point is One, he loves you…a lot and he doesn’t want to disappoint you and Two, well…he’s kind of afraid of your wrath, get it?”
“I’m getting it. And what about you? Big rock star that you are--”
“You mocking me. Sir!”
“No,” Brian chuckled. “I’m not. I just wondered if drugs factor into your--”
“No. My brother, he…uhmm, he did over-dose himself four years ago. Not like Justin because…well actually, he died and I learned. Now, Justin’s done near the same thing and you need to learn. With my brother, it was intentional, guess he just couldn’t handle the idea of having to take care of me anymore haha, but with Justin, it wasn’t. But fuck-all if the results aren’t the same. Know what I mean? Dead’s dead, no two ways about it.”
“I could just take him home.”
“Well sure, you could, you could just do that, Brian, and then you could keep him all safe and sound and comfy cozy. Ahhhh so sweet, but he’s on his way. He is. He’s getting noticed, might even make it one day so, sure, you could take him back to safe little ole Pittsburgh, nothing personal, but you know what I think? I think someday, when he looks back, he’ll end up resenting you Big Time. You think they’re gonna follow his ass back to Pittsburgh? Not a chance, not at this stage of the game. Maybe one day, but not now and anyway, you know as well as I do that what happened last night wasn’t a ‘New York’ kind of thing. Could have happen anywhere, even in the great and glorious metropolis of Pittsburgh.”
“Is this that if-you-ain’t-from-here disrespect you mentioned earlier?”
“Little. Maybe. I’ve kind of grown sick of hearing the word, but well. And anyway from what he’s told me about you and him at…at…Babylon, right? I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t happened already. No stranger yourself to poppers and K and all of the other bullshit, are you? Didn’t you personally, pretty much introduce him to--?”
“There’s a very fine line between informative and intrusive.”
“And am I walking a little too close to that line? Yeah I know whatthefuck right do I have? ‘cause I‘ve only been around him a year…and one half…possibly two, but he got his start with you, didn’t he? Maybe I’m just making you realize a little too much. Or am I just underscoring what you already know?”
“Somehow this isn’t going the way I’d imagined.”
“Does life ever, really? I’m just sayin’ it wasn’t just my fault, alright? It wasn’t that that little fuck Jaxon, fucked everything up, alright? That if only I’d been watching out for him better, none of this would have happen. That what you thinkin’, Mr. Kinney’? Yeah, right. Look, I’ll just shut up. No actually, I’ll just go. There’s no reason for me to be here anymore, anyway. The guys are probably worried and all.”
“Dead cell. Died around 6am.”
But before he could accept, Jennifer was in the doorway. ‘I’ve called for the nurse, Brian. He’s waking up and he wants you.”
Turning toward the nurse, as she came down the way-to-bright corridor towards Justin’s room, Brian saw all too clearly the jolt first of relief and then of pain that passed behind Jaxon’s eyes.
“Please, Mrs. Evans,” Jaxon said, standing, “tell him Brian’ll be there in a second, I’ve just got one more thing I want to say. Please, Mrs. Evans, and then I‘ll go,” With a nod, Jennifer returned to Justin’s room.
“I’m sure if he knew you were--”
“Don’t, okay. Just…don’t. Point is, the reason I wanted to talk to you was just to say that you should be here.”
“I am here.”
“So...what? we chit-chat for 20 minutes and you feel we are now at a point on our relationship where you have the right to give me advice on how I should be--”
“He’s told me how, even from when he first meet you, how you’ve always said you wanted to be in New York. So whatthefuck’s keeping you? He’s here, why aren’t you?”
“It’s complicated, I have two businesses and anyway, what the hell makes you think you know enough to--?”
“We gonna play games? Seems to me that it doesn’t make much sense to play more games right now. Point is, he needs you, he does and you need him, right? You’re what…thirty-five, thirty-six?”
“Thirty-six, possibly thirty-seven.”
“Thirty-eight, I’m thirty…eight.”
“I think it’s fun how with you, my age got younger while with me, your age got, well…nevermind. And anyway, I am glad we got that point all cleared up because see, thing is, time waits for no man, including the great and glorious Brian Kinney.”
“He has told you a lot about me, hasn’t he? Alright, look, I’ve got a point for you. I come, you lose.”
‘Maybe him as a lover, maybe. He’s also told me all about your ‘open’ relationship. What‘d he call it…unconventional? And like I said, I already know about Jameson and Ricci--”
“Uhhh…forging ahead. I don’t think I’d lose him as a friend; you’re not that kind of man. Or so I’m told…by Jamie actually so, being done, I’m going.”
“You guys really have a close knit little organization going on, don’t you? Look, he’s fortunate to have you as a friend. I mean that.”
“He’s fortunate to have you as a partner and so, if we’re done now with all the kissy-kissy bullshit, go and make things right. He’ll do fine without you here, okay? He will, even if it may not seem that way to you right at the moment, but he’ll do a hell of a lot better with you here. See? See see? I‘ve got it all figured out.”
“Seems like you have got a lot of it all figured out.”
“I’ve consumed a vending machine’s worth of for-shit-coffee and have had hours to obsess so…. Plus, remember? I’m wise for my years. You be too, okay? You know what I just realized? Since as you are almost twice my age, shouldn’t you also be almost twice as wise as me?” Dancing away from Brian’s swipe at him, with a last gulp of his now-gone-cold coffee, and with a practiced toss of his cup into the garbage can, he was gone or nearly so. Halfway down the corridor, Jaxon did a little quarter-turn back toward Brian and casually said, “Tell Justin, I’ll be around.”
“That a threat?” Brian asked, half-smirking, half-chuckling.
“Pleeease. No threat, just reality.” The last Brian saw of him, for that day anyway, was a silhouetted of him against the bright sunshine of the hospital’s open door just before it slammed shut behind him.
Turning back toward Justin’s hospital room door, considering it for a moment, with a deep sigh, Brian pushed it open and he went in. Smiling to Jennifer as she got up from her place at the side of his bed, he went to Justin. Sitting on the edge, leaning toward him, looking directly into his still slightly hazy eyes, he said calmly, “And so, how are you feeling?”
“Okay, I guess. Just--”
“Good. Good. Now, tell me this. Justin, are you out of your fucking mind? Are you? I only ask because while I should be finishing up a lunch meeting right about now with one of the finest looking attorneys in the greater Pittsburgh area--”
“Tyler Hudson…from Marshall and Freeman?”
“No, no. actually Isaac Matthews from--”
“Oh, I am sorry. From Markson and Perry, right? I remember him.”
“I’m sure you do. But…instead of being there…I’m here.” Moving in very close, right up into Justin’s personal space, Brian said, “Just so you know, Justin, you scared the shit out of me, Out Of Me. And out of your mother and out of Cynthia and undoubtedly out of half of Liberty Avenue by now because, as I am sure we are both well aware, word of your little misstep has undoubtedly spread far and wide. And interestingly, file this away for future reference, I find I don’t much like having the shit scared out of me so, really, are you out of your fuck…ing mind?”
“I didn’t mean for this to happen, Brian. Like I told mom, it was an accident.”
“Like Jaxon told me. But, like he also told me, died is died, intentional or not.”
“He’s here; you’ve been talking to Jaxon? Where is he?”
“You didn’t tell him?” Brian said, turning to Jennifer. She shook her head so, turning back to Justin, he continued. “Yes, he was here, for hours, watching over you like a mother hen. He got you here. And yes, we talked, very informative little shit. But now your very good friend has left the building.”
“I know…I know he is. He is my very good friend. What did you guys--”
“In fact, we had a nice long…chat.”
“A nice long…chat?”
“Yes, Justin, a very nice very long chat. And as I said, a very informative one.”
“And like I also said before, he bothered to remind me that intentional or not, dead is dead.”
“Yeah, his…his brother o.d.’ed a few years back, leaving him alone to fend for himself. At 16! No mom, no dad. Shit, he doesn‘t think--?”
“No, no he doesn’t. Your mother and I may have had our doubts, but not him. He told me a lot of things, about his brother and about how he does feel some responsibility for what’s happened to you.”
“He’s not, you know. He was working and shit just got out of hand.”
“I know. Still, he’s told me a lot of things, Justin, which we need to consider and, since we are on the subject, I’ve been thinking and, while it may take a while…”
And so, Brian finally really tells Justin and Jennifer how he’s been planning on moving to New York and that all that has changed from his original plan is that one-day-soon is now just-as-soon-as-is-humanly-possible. Justin and Jennifer both mostly already knew this, but at least Justin finds comfort in Brian’s affirmation of it.
Still, as-soon-as-is-humanly-possible won’t actually be in another year and a half, the six months it will take for Brian to finish brokering the right deal for the Babylon@NewYork location and then, the twelve months it will take from breaking ground to turning on the lights and cranking up the sound system. But since he and Justin will have several more decades together anyway, what difference can one more year…and one half really make?
And honestly, initially Jennifer isn’t all that pleased. Despite Brian’s plans, hers had shifted to include bringing Justin home forever. But she knows she’s just overreacting and after a time, and especially after Tucker finds his Dream Job as a math teacher in the Pre & Lower School at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn --is there actually anyone who doesn’t want to live in or around New York?-- Jennifer’s ‘just fine with it’. That process will take Jennifer and Tucker another five years, but eventually Mrs. Jennifer Evans will join her son and his partner in New York City where they will all live happily ever after.