Their Gift of Always
Brian picked him up at Pittsburgh International, his flight, unexpectedly, right on time. “Sooo, one last time…huh?” Justin said, bringing his lips close to Brian’s ear, his hip bumping Brian’s for emphasis as they began snaking their way through the third level airport parking garage, finally reaching the 'Vette with little strain or stress.
“Yeah, guess so,” Brian said, unlocking his door, opening it for him, and closing it behind him once he was safely inside.
“Yeah, guess so,” Justin chuckled and, throwing his carry-on into the space behind him, hearing the purr-vroom of the engine as Brian started the car, he sighed, “Guess so.” Glancing at Brian’s profile, silhouetted dark against the light of the garage, he smiled a melancholy half-smile, his chosen response to the upcoming shift in their reality.
Their drive to Britin normally was done with a quickness that comes with doing something so very familiar, so very habitually, that thoughts, observations, considerations, were no longer necessary. How often, in the past four years, had they made this journey? And now now…just one last time. But, because of this new reality, Justin gazed out into the darkening landscape trying to remember, even more clearly, each detail, attempting to commit to memory, even more firmly, each tree, each hill-rise, each…everything. This time the drive to Britin took a lifetime even if, eventually, they did turn into the driveway that led to the entrance of the fantasy-that Brian-had-bought-for-his-prince.
Once parked, Brian killed the engine and they sat for a moment surrounded by silence, just as the sun set to the west, sending out quick flashes of burnt-orange and scarlet scattering through the trees and streaking along the undersides of the clouds. For a moment the snow became the color of wild strawberries just before plunging into the dark blue of early winter it would remain for the rest of the night. The sun had gone behind the horizon and they were home. None the worse for the wear.
They unwillingly left their cocoon, the night-sounds muted by a snowfall sudden and silent. They hurried inside and, pausing briefly in the entryway, dusting the snow off of each other, cold fingers tangled in still warm hair, soft lips brushing against cold cheeks, cold noses, and slightly warmer throats, when they finally untangled from each, they headed for the main living room, shedding their bags and scarves and coats along the way. Brian crouched before the hearth, lighting a warming fire, heating his hands before it.
“Masterfully done,” Justin said. He knelt beside Brian. “And do I know my job or what? You light the fire from without…” gesturing grandly toward the growing flames lick-dancing shadows across the carved pink stone interior of the massive fireplace, a testament to the ideal of hearth and home, “…and I light the fire from within.” He hand Brian his shot of Beam before throwing back his own gulp of amber liquid and, rubbing his stomach with a satisfied murmur. Justin sighed. “Hummm, good stuff. Good, good stuff”
“You are right,” Brian said, putting down his also now empty glass. He pulled Justin into his arms with warm breaths against his temple, with soft murmurs against his ear. “With more good stuff to come. With much…much…more good stuff to come, unless I miss my guess.”
“Can’t imagine you ever miss your guess,” Justin said, but suddenly growing serious, moving closer into him, running his hands up along his sides, softly scratching his nails along Brian’s back, just inside his shirt, Justin kissed him. And just as suddenly, lying back on the silk embroidered rug, he brought Brian down on top of him. “And since you are so obviously good at guessing, guess what I want right now? Hummm, Brian. Tell me what you think I want right now.”
“I’ll tell you just what you want right now.” And he kissed him, full and deep, Brian’s tongue filling his mouth, the proof of his lust already evident in the sound of his voice gone thick and low, in the faint trembling of his lips as he sucked down on his throat to his shoulder and back up again to his mouth, and in the hardness of his cock pushing against his thigh. “You want me inside you. You want me fucking you. Right Now.”
“Please. Now.” Emphasizing his point, he bucked up into Brian, moving, stroking, his body along Brian’s, shifting so they were cock to cock, stomach to stomach, chest to chest, his legs already wrapped strong around Bran’s waist, ankles locked tight. “I want you in me. Now.” He sucked Brian’s tongue hard into his mouth.
But Brian broke the kiss, pulling back a little so he could just take Justin in, so he could take in all the subtle, and not so subtle, tell-tale signs of need made plain in him. Like how Justin’s breathing had gone shallow and quick. Like how his lips were slightly swollen, faintly parted, already at least a couple of shades darker. Like how his eyes were also gone dark, somehow less bright, a grayed-out blue, and narrowed, focused. Eyes so full of desire, of aching, that Brian found himself drowning in them and again, once again, he let himself go. With just this one man, he found he could finally, completely let go. Over the past decade, Brian had learned that there really was a kind of freedom in surrender, the kind of surrender he was able to do only with Justin. Not always, but more and more he found a willingness, an almost demanding need just to let go. Slowly pulling even further back, knees spread, sitting on his heels, removing Justin’s boots, his socks, his jeans, allowing him to lay half naked on silk bathed by warm firelight, he said, “Spread ‘em. Let me see you.”
And Justin did, slightly arching his back, tilting his chin up and back as he pulled his knees up and apart, his eyes slit-open, focusing on the fire-shadows flickering lazily across the beamed ceiling. He sighed, shifting against them, as he felt the tips of Brian fingers smooth down the inside of one thigh, across his hole, and up along the other. “Brian, please. Yes,” he said, satisfied when he felt Brian’s spit-slicked finger push into him and then, groaning his dissatisfaction when Brian’s finger just as quickly pulled away. “Whatthe…?” But hearing, feeling Brian removing his own clothes, he decided it was only a matter of time. And he was right as one lube-slicked finger, then two, then three filled him, as he became aware of moving within himself to that perfect place where only Brian could take him, as he heard Brian groan his own need, as he felt his body being opened, filled, taken.
Fingers out, cock in and time became relative. The faster, the harder they moved with each other, the slower the hours, the minutes tick by. One night, a normal night, lasted an eternity, but finally, with new light just staining the morning sky, they slept. The days between now and the last time they had been in this place with each other made all but unimportant.
And too early, far, far too early Toronto arrived, two slightly frazzled women and one seriously wired ten year old boy who had all stayed the night before with Michael and Ben and Hunter, but who would now be spending the rest of their vacation with them. Michael and Ben, JR, and all of the rest of the Pittsburgh family would arrive the next day, on Christmas Eve. For now it would be only three more and just these three more were already way too much. At least way too much before a shower and a cup of coffee and a cigarette.
Lying still, mostly asleep, they could hear them downstairs. Lindsay and Melanie doing what they could to keep Gus in hand, but with him wanting nothing more than to bounce off the walls and tramp up and down the stairs, shouting out at the top of his lungs, “Dads, where are you guys? Come on, get UP. We’re heeeeere.”
“No shit.” Justin moaned, turning to face Brian, rolling into his arms. “Guess we might as well.”
“Too early.” Brian brushed him off and, rolling onto his back, draping his arm over his eyes, he groaned his inability to accept their reality “Too Early. Too, too early. Make them go away, Justin. And, in advance, thank you.” But Justin‘s knowing chuckle only confirmed what he already knew, it was too late. Too…too late. Turning back toward Justin, he smiled. “Shower?” And because Justin grabbed him, because he pulled him by the arm, dragging him to their bathroom, when he soon was washed and satisfied and downstairs with a coffee mug and cigarette in hand, deep in Gus’s recounting of the previous day’s, week’s, month’s, even year’s, events, Brian was finally okay with it.
And the kid left nothing out. Absolutely nothing. Beginning with every tiny detail of their drive from Toronto to Pittsburgh, to every ingredient itemized in what Ben and Michael had served for dinner…and breakfast…and lunch, to every character loving described from the PS2 games he’d played with Hunter, to every plot detail of the last three books he’d read for Mrs. Anderson’s fifth grade literature circle. Gus had what could only be described as an amazing attention for detail, an endless, and endlessly amazing, attention for detail. Three mugs of coffee and four cigarettes later, Brian thought that it might, just might, be time for a change.
Glancing at Justin, sending him his signal, Justin said, “Sooo…guess we should get started. Okay?” And they all agreed because, after all, there really was so much to do before everyone else arrived. Brian already had the outside of the house strung with hundreds of small white lights, along the roof-line, along the bordering fence, along either side of the walkway, intending as always to keep it simple, classic. A goal he had consistently achieved over the past couple of years and this year was no different. But the inside only reflected the holiday because of the gifts scattered along one wall waiting to go under the bare nine-foot pine placed between the two Tudor windows that faced the front yard. Those presents that had been sent ahead by Justin or those that had been brought by Lindsay and Melanie, but not those that Brian had, as yet, safely hidden away. And not most of those still to be brought by Michael, Ben and Hunter, by Debbie and Carl, by Jennifer, Tucker and Molly, by Ted and Blake and by Emmett and Ken. Most of those were still in Pittsburgh quietly waiting for tomorrow.
Today, the four adults and the one child would spend the day surrounding themselves with the warmth and the sparkle, with the tastes and the memories of Christmas. Since everyone always celebrated their Christmas’s at Britin, they’d also assembled their collected treasures within its walls, adding new finds each year and the collections had grown large. No one really remembered anymore what belonged to whom. In the beginning, they had tried to keep some order, had even bought a little journal for keeping notes, but not anymore. And when Brian left, everything would go with him.
When Justin noticed Brian and Gus gone missing, he searched out the windows of the second-story rooms until he found them, out in the back near the edge of their property, walking hand in hand. He watched as Gus suddenly pulled away, running, laughing. He chuckled as Gus grabbed a handful of snow pitching it at Brian and, without further declaration, it was war. Brian ducked behind a tree, returning fire with fire, snowball for snowball, unexpectedly leaping out from behind the relative safety of his tree and flying at Gus, slamming him with his quickly-assembled arsenal of not very hard-packed snowballs, sending Gus not only down, but into hysterics. Justin thought that if life would only cooperate, maybe he would be allowed to watch them like this forever. But, for better or worse, life had a habit of moving on. And because of that, eventually, they all returned to the living room, rejoining Lindsay and Melanie, picking up right where they had left-off.
Garlands wound-up stair railings, drifting across mantels, draping over window casings that framed snow-laden front yard trees shimmering in the clear winter sun of late afternoon. Glass ornaments filled crystal bowls combining to reflect tiny rainbows when that winter sun found them, scattering colors that danced off of every surface in the room, nature’s own contribution to the beauty within. And Gus couldn’t help but point out every single one. Ceramic cottages were nestled in the garland on the mantel as hand-made ornaments began to fill the tree.
They wouldn’t finish-up until late in the evening, Gus eventually falling asleep, no matter how hard he tried not to, nestled in Lindsay’s arms on the sofa in front of the fire, where the four adults remained, talking late into the night, sipping amaretto coffee and munching on the home-made cookies Lindsay and Melanie had brought with them. Well, Justin and the two women did all that. Brian, he drank rum and coffee and sampled a cookie or two, no more. Periodically, Justin became aware of Brian’s not so subtle look-of-disgust, his implied – if you’re not careful, one day you’re gonna get so fat and if you think I’m sticking around when you do, think again, buddy-boy – stares. But each time he shot right back to Brian his - I really don’t give a shit…it’s Christmas, so lighten-the-fuck-up already – counter-stares. And each time, Brian just chuckled.
Lindsay watched them and she remembered. She remembered being afraid when the whole Justin-moving-to-New York thing had first gone down, fearful that they would lose each other. She’d been torn, divided between what was right for Brian and Justin and what was right for Justin alone. She didn’t want him to live his life the way she had, never having taken the chance, never really finding out whether or not he was good enough, always wondering. When young, she’d been afraid, too afraid to take that chance. She remembered telling Justin, in his little make-shift Pittsburgh studio, that the reason she’d never gone to New York was because she knew she wasn’t good enough, but that had been a lie. Truth was, she had simply been too afraid to find out. Better to never know then to find out that she really wasn‘t good enough. But she’d been wrong; not knowing only led to a life-time of regrets. The age-old question of which was worse, to try and fail or to never try at all. She knew the answer now and it was to never try at all.
It would have been so easy for Justin to use Brian as his excuse, as his reason for staying in Pittsburgh and he really was too good for that to happen.so, she’d taken the opportunity when handed it. She’d interfered. She’d pushed and prodded both of them; even eventually enlisting Brian himself and her meddling had worked. Maybe not as she would have thought. And especially not when, last year, it had looked like her worst fears would become real when, for a while, they really did seem to fall apart.
At first she’d been so thrilled when Justin had started selling, she and Mel had both been so proud of him, so relieved that their interfering appeared to have paid off, but then, when Justin and Brian really did seem lost to each other, she’d become nervous, concerned. During that time, she’d looked closely for signs that Brian still believed in a future-time with Justin. Britin had eventually helped her to understand that no matter what his words might be to the contrary, Brian believed, really believed, that there was a future-time for them. Otherwise, he would have sold it. He would have sold Britin and never looked back, but he hadn’t. No matter how much time had passed without them seeing each other, even if other holidays, other occasions, were sometimes missed by Justin, Christmas always brought them together, both lords of the manor and with everyone included. Like now.
For the next week, this house, their home, would be filled with the sounds and smells, with the warmth and celebration of Christmas 2009, a tradition that began when part of the family scattered to Toronto and to New York. For one more week, everything remained in place. For at least a little while longer, everything remained the same. This was their gift to their family, Brian and Justin’s Britin tradition, a ritual that had continued through all the changes, both good and not-so-good, over the past nearly five years. But it was a tradition whose time had now come and gone, at least in this place. Brian finally had put the house on the market, selling it even more quickly and for more money than he could have hoped. The moving vans would arrive at the end of the week to carry the stuff of his life, of theirs, to New York. And to Justin.
So, the house witnessed one last celebration, at least with this group of people. Next year, there would others and the festivities, the making of memories, would go on.
And as for this group pf people, this family, they would all celebrate at Brian and Justin’s new and gorgeous, although not yet completely renovated, space in ‘Downtown by Philippe Starck’ in lower Manhattan. One fantasy let go of so that another could begin. Next year would be different, but if there was one thing everyone knew, it was that they would all be together wherever Brian and Justin were, an old tradition continued in a brand new way. Their gift to their family. Their gift of always.
As will be remembered from Stockwell’s campaign, it’s this shit where Brian shines, where he is in his milieu and, while he doesn’t become an Obama field manager or anything (that would be me!!) he works his ass off nonetheless. Organizing voter turnout, working phones at DNC Campaign Headquarters (Brian gives great phone), but especially in creating ad campaigns for our local races. Gratis, naturally. And, man, does he donate. By the time November finally rolls around, I’ll probably be worrying about making the mortgage. But it’ll worth it, every dime of it because this is one election we can’t lose.
Paying It Forward
As bad as it is at first, it doesn’t really get scary until, standing on our balcony, looking toward Battery Park, we watch as the lights go out, never imagining lower Manhattan will remain in darkness for 4 long days. And all things considered, Brian handles it pretty well. With a minimum of complaint and a maximum of fucking...at a sweet midtown hotel he scrambles to get us. Knowing someone who knows someone helps even if, once back home, we both realize, any real escape is fantasy. New York”s been good to us so now, we pay the city back.
Watching Our Guy Win
Justin started getting nervous around mid-July and, even though I assured him there was no need, he admitted he just couldn’t help himself. So that by mid-September, with each new poll or next debate or controversy only tweaking him more, I realized he was making himself sick. Initially, back in July, it was funny, but by September, it wasn’t any more so, we doubled our volunteering efforts. Initially, I didn’t necessarily want to, but seeing the work’s healing powers on him was amazing and now, seeing his eyes shine watching President Obama reelected, I know I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Taking Care of New York
Once again he amazed me, knowing just who to call so we’d know where our assistance was most needed, he hadn’t even wait until we were home, Justin had started searching our first day at the hotel, finding ways for us to help. With the job so enormous, it would’ve been easy becoming overwhelmed, but we struggled, along with everyone else, day by day. And while I may not be used to it, physical labor felt damn good. Justin and me working side by side. Doing whatever we could to make our city whole again, I’ll admit, felt pretty damn good.
Doing Unto Others
From the last week of October through the last week of November, between having lived through both the horrific low of climate change made unmistakably tangible to the intense almost surreal high of all our hard work finally paying off when our guy was reelected president, Brian and I, along with several thousand of our immediate neighbors, had been on a roller coaster ride to end all roller coasters rides. But now what with December here and with our own little part of an otherwise chaotic world finally on something like an even keel, we turned our attention, once again, to the planning and execution of yet another off-off-off-Broadway production of ‘Christmas in the City with Brian & Justin’ for only our nearest and dearest of family and friends..
Because back when it’d become apparent that Brian was going to sell Britin and move to Manhattan (and to me!) one of the first things we’d realized was that alternative holiday plans would be necessary since, from the first Christmas after Brian had bought our country house, to the last before selling it, everyone had celebrated with us. They even cleverly stored the bulk of their combined treasures in our basement to save having to lug tons of breakables back and forth from Pittsburgh or Toronto to Britin.
Still, at Britin everyone had stayed with us, while here no one does because, since 2009, when Brian first came to New York, we’ve lived, at 95 Wall Street…in a Phillippe Starck building…with amazing amenities, just sayin’…in some of the sweetest, most stunningly designed 2000 square feet to be found anywhere. Two thousand square feet of elegance that scarcely accommodated Brian, not to mention me, let alone everyone else. Now out-of-towners, except Gus when he comes on his own and because he was still kind of small-ish, were put up at a reasonably nearby and pretty swank little hotel. A client of Brian’s who has given us a sweet group-discount every year so far.
And so, supplemented by lots of cab rides, thus our first major compromise was found.
That left the presents to deal with. Some of which, the large-ish ones anyway, had been sent directly to Britin once they’d been bought and tastefully wrapped and, for the most part and weirdly, that routine ultimately remained basically the same. Because also, since the year of Brian’s NYC arrival, we’ve rented year round, a decent sized, exceedingly secure storage unit to double as Britin’s basement, housing not only the presents part-time, but everyone’s Christmas treasures all the time. And since our unit was climate-controlled, which, honestly, the basement hadn’t been nearly enough, this changeup has been all to the good, long term-wise, for the preservation of everyone’s stuff.
And so, thus our second, and really only other major compromise, was also found. God, we’re good.
Consequently, after spending our first year getting the new compromises down and our next year getting most of the details just right, everyone learning and adjusting as we went along, this year has been, despite everything else, fairly pain-free. We’d gotten our shit essentially back on track early this month. The first week was all about make our little corner of paradise nice and shiny clean, which basically entailed Brian leaving me detailed instructions, diagrams included, for the cleaning crew. While this second week has been all about prettying the place up, which basically entailed Brian sitting on the sofa, drinking gin & tonic or Beam or…whatever, directing me in the proper way to hang garland or tinsel…or whatever. Because what? I haven’t been doing this all my freakin’ life? Still, I smiled and I gave him what he wanted because why the hell not?
Breaking certain boxes out of the storage garage, leaving the others for their rightful owners to unpack when they arrived, we’ve only done the background bits and pieces because during the third week, next week, our nearest and dearest will start arriving, all looking forward to adding their own personal touches to our main living space and since, after all, it should be about everyone, not only about Brian (and me!) that will be all to the good too.
Oh sure, in the past, while Brian may have shaken his head at some of the decorating choices, may even have cringed or let out a low moan periodically when the rules of symmetry or balance or color harmony were blatantly pushed aside, he only really redid certain little things and only when he thought no one was watching. Even he had to admit, eventually, that this shouldn’t be only about him, but should also be about everyone else including even some of the more design-challenged among us. Which yes, to Brian probably included everyone. Still, he has behaved as best he can. And so, after an exhausting morning coming after an equally exhausting week of doing painstaking background decorating and cleaning and…whatever, when sitting down next to him on the sofa, after taking the drink from his hand and a gulp from the glass, while looking around with some sense of satisfaction, when I cautiously asked, “So, whatcha think?” I expected if not admiration, then at least approval. Big mistake.
Taking the drink back from me, mumbling, “Get your own,” he continued looking from here to there and back again for way too long before finally saying, “Basically it works. Still, it lacks a certain something over…there.” He pointed his drink-laden hand toward an empty corner by the French-doored balcony overlooking Wall Street.
“Because,” I reminded him, “that’s where the tree goes. It’s empty simply because the tree we haven’t yet purchased, since you wanted to wait for Gus and JR to help pick it out, isn’t there yet. And won’t be for several more days. Is that going to be a problem for you? It sounds like that’s going to be a problem for you.”
“Aahhhh, right. And yes, I believe so. I believe that may well be a problem for me.”
“But why? It was your--”
“Not sure. It just feels…wrong somehow, inappropriate, uncomfortable, out of balance. What did we do last year because I don’t remember ever having felt like this before?”
“Last year, just like the year before that--”
“I get your point, I really--”
“--we didn’t wait, right? We got the tree without the kids. And unlike with the rest of this vast space, we decorated--”
“—the tree leaving most of rest of it for them. After everyone’d left…last year, you decided to change it up…this year. And wait for them before, you know, getting the tree. Am I ringing any bells, yet? Ting-a-ling?”
Putting his drink down on a side table, scrunching down even further into the sofa as he closed his eyes, leaning his head on my shoulder, and Brian said, “Seemed like a good idea at the time, but now, I’m not so sure. I mean, I know we probably should wait. I’m sure they really would like to help find the perfect tree. Still, I don’t know if I can live with this uneasy, unbalanced feeling for several more days.”
“As difficult a situation as this may be…for you, perhaps it might still be possible to find a compromise. Some sensible way of dealing with your neurosis until--”
“Harsh, really,” Brian said, snuggling down even closer.
“Not so sure it is. Still, if a compromise can be found, shouldn’t we at least try to find it? You do think so, don’t you, Brian?”
“I suppose. Although I can’t imagine what.”
“The coat rack!!”
“In the entryway!!”
“I know where we keep the fucking coat rack, Justin. I just don’t--”
“We could drag it in here. Into the corner, I mean. And sure, maybe it’s not as tall as a Christmas tree--”
“Or as green, it being all shiny chrome and--”
“True. Still, we could layer it up with all our very colorful coats.”
“We do have some pretty colorful--”
“And put a jauntily little hat on top.”
“Maybe that jauntily little one I got you when--”
“That would work. And then, we could garland it with all our scarves and mufflers.”
“Maybe hang a few pairs of gloves?”
“And then, I’ll be able to comfortably wait for the kids to arrive next week when--”
“When we’ll drag the rack back into the entryway before going out to buy us a real live Christmas tree!”
“Huh. Still, don’t you think we could at least go look at the trees now? Kind of get the lay of the land, see what’s out there, what we’ll have to choose from next week?” His head was still on my shoulder, but I could feel an excited energy emanating from him. “Where’s my iPad, I’ll just quick google where we can find trees around here. May not be the same as last year.”
“First?” He looked up at me.
“First, we move the rack in here.”
“Okay honestly, that’s not the’ first’ I was thinking of.” A serious look came to his eyes.
“Shut up, Brian.” I pushed him away causing him to look harmed in some way. “No, seriously, first we move the rack, then we decorate it all nice and pretty, and then we can go look at trees so you’ll--”
“So I’ll feel more comfortable, yes, yes. But when do we--”
“Later, Brian, there’s always later.”
“True. That is true. Or, here’s an idea, we could fuck first, then move the rack from there to here, then we could decorate it and then--”
“Ya know? sometimes you talk too much and do too little. Talk...talktalk.”
“What would you have me do, Justin? Tell me. And be brief.”
“I’d have you drag my ass into the bedroom and fuck me into next week?”
“It really is all about compromise, isn’t it? Those made for the ultimate benefit of everyone involved.”
“Talking too much, Brian while not doing nearly--”
“Enough, yeah, I know.” Getting up from the sofa, taking my hand, he said, “So, if you’ll just follow me, I’ll be more than happy to fuck you into next week from the comfort and safety of our very own bedroom.”
“To the ultimate benefit of everyone involved?” I asked, following him where ever he might lead.
“It’s uncanny how sometimes it’s like you’re inside my mind, reading my very thoughts. Kind of creepy, but I--”
“Yes, Justin, I know. Shut up and kiss you, right?”
“Right, Brian.” And really it was just like he was also inside my mind, also reading my very thoughts, which was, and will always be, not only kind of creepy, but just as it should be.