For anyone new to my journal, all my short stories were done for various challanges --Hurt/Comfort --Road Trip!!! --What If?-- or for Christmas gifts.
This first one, Taking Care of Justin, a multi-parter taking place over the span of twenty years
Taking Care of Justin
You Save Yourself_You Find Your Way
A working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood_1984
Sunlight slanted through a dusty window, scattering across a linoleum floor faded with time, lessening a little the gloom of the original-to-its-core 1950’s Carnegie-built library. Drifting then over scuffed boots and jean-clad legs, warming scraped knees that shown through the well-worn denim, its light finally disappearing under the tall wooden book-stacks that stood protectively around him, guarded him from view.
Sun-lightened brown hair fell jagged and heavy over intense hazel eyes, concealing him further while in his lap he held a book large and dense about the history of western art with others --about design, about sculpture, about contemporary painting– piled close by. Contained within them was all of the art that had ever been created, whether as recently as last year or as distantly as 6,000 years ago, with the real if unknown, and unknowable, purpose of being used by him now to save himself. Curled up almost; his long legs tucked under him, his head bowed in concentration, in the corner, on the floor, behind the tallest stacks, Brian Kinney made himself small. And that no one would notice him if he was small, not much more than a phantom with a heartbeat, not much more than a gathering of sun-dust all in one place, was all that really mattered. For now he was safe.
That the women-in-charge not only noticed, but cared about him, even trying as best they could to accommodate him, he would never completely understand. But because of their silent acceptance, here like nowhere else before, he would begin to find his way.
“I’ve been meaning to ask…the kid in the corner, what’s that all about?” Mary said, her curiosity finally getting the better of her. “I’ve see him here nearly every—”
“He’s Brian. Brian Kinney, a freshman at Leigh High and that’s ‘his place’,” Cindy said. “He’s been hiding out here--”
“Yes, that is what I’d call it. He’s been hiding out here since middle school, for at least a couple of years. Look, since Marjorie’s maternity leave is only for another month and you won’t really be at this branch all that long, I wasn’t sure if you’d--”
“No, no, tell me.” Standing at the circulation desk, talking in whispers while sorting books onto the library carts, the two women, warmed by the late-afternoon sun; felt the contentment of cats lazing on the sill of a southern facing window, an endless afternoon of useful work ahead of them.
“He comes in sometimes with well…with bruises…on his arms mostly and sometimes, if you watch him, he moves as if he’s in pain. I don’t know, I think maybe he’s being hurt, maybe at home so, he hides out here. For him, we’re safe.”
“Have you reported this or--”
“No, we thought we should speak with him first, we even tried, but we couldn’t get anything out of him, he only admitted to having some ‘minor’ problems at school. And the worst part about it, after we tried talking to him, he stopped coming for a while, I thought we’d lost him, but he finally came back maybe three…four months later. He came in, looked at me with these pleading eyes, I’ll never forget it so, we’ve left him alone since. It never seems to get much worse, it also never seems to get any better, but at least I know as long as he’s here, he’s alright.”
“Sounds like you have a real soft spot for the kid.”
“And even if you are only here for a month and a half, in the end, you will too, I guarantee it. Plus, he’s into art so…” And Cindy smiled.
And even though she couldn’t see him, looking toward where Brian was hidden, Mary whispered, “I’m sure I will.” The warming sun drifted unnoticed behind a cloud and suddenly the room chilled. Shivering, grabbing her sweater, she wrapped it around herself trying to get warm, but it wasn’t of any use really because, as she well knew, what made her shiver wasn’t so much the sudden chill as it was her fear, her very real fear for a boy she hadn’t even known existed just a few days ago.
Standing near her, Cindy said, “Don’t worry, he’ll be alright, he’s strong and we’ll take care of him as long as we can. I’m sorry to have worried you.”
“I just don’t understand how--”
“No one does. Marjorie wants to follow him home some afternoon and beat up his parents.”
“From what I know of Marge, she just might do it too,” Mary said, chuckling.
“Well, I have, so far, successfully talked her out of it, but…”
“He will be alright?”
“All I can promise is, we’ll do the best we can and hopefully--”
“Hopefully, that will be enough?” Mary said while walking toward the Young Reader section with her now filled cart.
“Hopefully, that will at least help,” Cindy replied as she walked in the opposite direction toward the Romance section with her filled cart both having made sure to leave any art section books behind. Those could be filed later after Brian had left.
On school day afternoons when he couldn’t go home with his best friend, Mikey, Brian darted into his neighborhood library, moving with near-invisibility through it, finding his way in books about art and design. On some days, gentle days, he filled his mind with rose-tinted-houses perched on the crests of gold-crowned hills and with yellow-furred fox nestled in the depths of an orange-warmed forest. But on other days, angry days, he filled his heart with snorting wild-eyed stallions fighting an ancient battle and with terror-filled peasants staring into the face of fanatical death. Sometimes he journeyed alphabetically, from Auerbach to Warhol, other times chronologically, from Mesopotamia to mid-20th Century America, always learning. At 14, he already understood that the worlds held within these books would one day be his. His only way out.
Out, away….away from his religion-blinded mother, his resentment-driven father. Away…as far away as he could run from his working-class heritage, their culture no longer tolerated, their beliefs denied, seen as stupid and useless, seen as pathetic. Their world already rejected. He would find his own way, a way as different from their values, their morals, their influence as he could find. He wanted more, something better and one day he would have it. No matter how long it took, no matter what he had to do to get there. Nothing and no one would stand in his way.
So, each book was always returned to its place, put back exactly where he’d found it, because then there wouldn’t be any trouble, because then there wouldn’t be any reason for anyone to tell him he had to go. Because then no one could tell him, like his pop always said, that he not only didn‘t belong, but that he never should have come in the first place.
If just for a little while, the paintings filled his mind, taking away the fear, the isolation, the rejection. One day he would be an artist, one day he would create new worlds, his own new worlds using only canvas and paint. And with them, through them, one day he would become someone who mattered, a great big fucking success. Then they would see, all of them. Then they would understand that he had every right to be where ever he wanted to be and that no one had any right to tell him how to live his life. Then they would understand that he would never let himself be hurt again. Not by anyone. Not ever.
And always, just before leaving, Brian would make one last journey, a ritual of sorts, a pilgrimage to the American geography reference section where his last 15 minutes would be spent scanning the big glossy pages of a photography book about New York City, about Manhattan. Always the same book and he never read the words. He allowed only the images to fill him, to carry him away, to sustain him, reminding him that at least one new world already existed and that it was waiting, patiently waiting for him to finally come home.
Do You Remember When We Believed, When We Dreamed?_Do You Remember When We Were Young?
Gino’s Bistro near Pennsylvania State University_1989
Words soared and glimmered, weaving dreams that intertwined from one to the other across the small table covered in woven red and white checks. Ideas that followed along with the rhythm of the table’s flickering candlelight as the candle itself steadily melted over the grass-green wine bottle now only barely visible beneath a many-hued coat of wax. As yet another layer of streaky color was added to those that had already been left behind from other candles that had melted while other dreamers had dreamed.
Trying to imagine the bottle as it had once been, when it had first been opened, the deep-red wine’s peppery fragrance adding to the infinitesimal perfumes that always filled the tiny bistro, Lindsay Peterson sometimes plucked at a small strand of the now cold wax and rubbing it between her fingers, she wondered, if in warming it, she was releasing all those other dreams once dreamed over candlelight. But only sometimes. Because at other times she had the uneasy feeling that dreams didn’t always come true, an understanding that was only beginning to make its self truly felt and, consequently, an understanding that was even more passionately denied because of its very possibility. At those times, she left the wax alone, respectful of its silence.
At those times, she concentrated even more on Brian and his words, believing in her heart what his words told her, that they would one day become who they were born to be, who they were meant to be. Real artists. Honest artists. New York artists. His words wove around them making her strong, making her invincible. His belief so palpable; she could imagine the very power of those words moving through her, claiming her. She believed as did he and so they dreamed together and for each other even taking a vow, sworn in secret and therefore sacred, that they would never be like her mother and her friends with their little suburban strip-mall art association, selling their pastel seaside watercolors and their gaudy floral acrylics to the owners of suburbia.
They swore a vow that instead they would be urban, that they would be city, that they would be New York. They swore a vow, secret and sacred, that they would be true, true to their art and thereby true to themselves. And they believed.
Leaning across the table, Lindsay confronted him. “You promise me, Brian. You swear.”
“I swear, Lindsay,” he said, meeting her gaze, “that one day--”
“Wait, wait. My turn.”
Brian settled back in his chair, obviously eager. He knew by heart, just as she did, the little plea they always made just before leaving Gino’s Bistro and heading back to class. They’d both said the words to each other so often over the past year that they had become a kind of ritualized prayer to the karma gods of art and relocation.
“Okay, so one day and soon, Very Very Soon, like the very day after we graduate, we’ll fly directly to New York--”
“I’ve been thinking maybe we should just stop off in Pitts--”
“Do not interrupt me, Brian. And anyway, it’s my turn so To Hell With Pittsburgh plus, as you well know, if we change anything now, anything at all, it will completely ruin every--”
“Everything? One little change will ruin everything. Christ.”
”As you well know. So anyway, once we’re in New York, after maybe three or four months, right? six tops, we will become shockingly successful. Agents and galleries and museums and collectors will be lining up to sign or show or sell or whatever us and then…” and here she paused, always pausing for the drama “…we will become disgustingly rich and, naturally, everyone who is anyone will throw themselves At Our Feet and we will stay forever young and we’ll live happily ever after until the end of our miraculously long lives. The end. So, did I leave anything out…Peter?”
“New York will be ours, Wendy. One day, it will all be ours. All the fame, all the money, all the gorgeous men--”
“And gorgeous women, Brian, as you well--”
“Riiight, but only after a reasonable amount of time. Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking--”
“Please don’t, it always frightens me when you think.”
“I’ve been thinking about our ‘three to four months, six months tops’ timeline. Do you really think it’ll take that long?”
“I shouldn’t imagine it would take any longer what with our astonishing talent--”
“And our stunning good looks.”
“We are beautiful,” Lindsay chuckled.
“We really are.”
“Well, alright then. How about we just get rid of the ‘six tops’ part?” Lindsay said.
“We will have changed something, thereby ruining everything, am I right?”
“You know, that smartass atti--”
“So, to summarize,” Brian said, while finishing the last of his garlic bread, “we will become great big fucking successes and beyond richer-than-the gods and we will be regularly fucked by gorgeous men…or women, in something like three to four months. How’s that, Linds? Work for you?”
“I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.”
“Because, and correct me if I’m--”
“Whatever because I have a more pressing problem to--”
“Such as…where the hell’s our waiter? I’m going to be late for Psych if we don’t get the check and soon.”
“You’ll be just fine, Brian. Trust me, you always have been and, I can only assume, you always will be.”
“How well you know me, Linds, how very right you are.”
They would go often to Gino’s to dine on spicy pasta served with warm garlic bread. But even more often, they would go there to drink espresso and to dream late into the night. Their heads bowed together, their usual self-consciousness gone. But only with each other and only there, in that place, in that cocoon of tacky Italian design that was nonetheless made rich by the smells of simple food well prepared and warmed by the sounds of the other regular diners also intent on finding their way. There they were safe to dream their lofty dreams of the day when they would become real.
For as long as it lasted.
Dreams Change, When They Have To_When Only The Essence Remains
Fine Art’s Department at Pennsylvania State University_1992
He watched Lindsay draw, the large sheet of newsprint surrendering its self to her assured touch, the strong and delicate lines of charcoal in balance, some clear, some smudged, giving the Raphael-like model posing for them real subsistence. Each line showing the proper weight, the proper perspective, the proper energy, the subtle dance of shade and light and it was totally her own, her style distinctive from any other student’s. And she was lost in it, only stopping when the model left the platform. Only stopping when she had to.
Returning to his own drawing, Brian knew that his technique was good, but not inspired and that it never would be; that he would never be the kind of artist he wanted to be; that Lindsay already was. He had known the reality of that shock-to-the-system for a while. With more study, more practice, and experience, he would grow, be better but he would never be great so, what was the point? Nearly two and a half years of college and he’d seen clearly where he ranked alongside the other artists-in-the-making and he understood that his place among them just wasn’t high enough.
It hadn’t been easy, this realization. He’d fought its implications for far too long, determined to make his dream work the way he’d always imagined it would, ever since he was a kid pouring over all of the art books at the library. But he’d begun questioning himself more and more, realizing that his talent didn’t measure-up and never would. He’d lost confidence, had doubted himself, but not for long. Because he’d also realized that what mattered most was success and all that that meant, the respect, the money, the prestige, the freedom. That what mattered most was finding his place in the world and ensuring that that place was important. That he became someone who mattered.
Because if juggling five semesters of both Fine Art and Design & Advertising classes had taught him anything it was that his talents were more commercial than fine and that, consequently, some refinements, some slight modifications to his original plans were required. He understood, almost as if instinctively, how color harmony worked and about compositional balance, how elements interacted and played off each other and about the subliminal responses suggested by images and type. He even understood about good copywriting. It had been in his advertising classes that he knew he excelled and that if he was ever going to do inspired work, like Lindsay now did in Life Drawing or in Renaissance Painting or in pretty much whatever Fine Arts class she applied herself to, it would be in advertising. His counselor agreed so, changes were put into place. For his sixth semester he would change his major from Fine Art to Advertising & Media Studies with an emphasis on photography.
His strengths utilized, his weaknesses minimized.
Now, if only Lindsay would understand.
“We’ll still go to New York, that doesn’t change, Linds.” Brian said, playing with his empty espresso cup, his nervous energy and the caffeine making him jittery.
She sat tight and withdrawn across from him, her untouched espresso getting cold. “It won’t be the same, we won’t--”
“It’ll be enough. Look, you don’t want me wasting my time--”
“You’re good Brian, you really--”
“But I’m not good enough, Linds. I’m not. I like my drawing & painting classes, but you know what I love. I love art history, I love photography and I love my ad & design classes. It’s like a puzzle, pulling together all the pieces that will combine up to make a successful cam--”
“It’s the money--”
“It’s easier, quicker to make decent money.”
“It’s what I’m really good at; it feels right, like I know what I’m--”
“Advertising, Brian?” she said, looking into his eyes. “Really?”
“Look,” he said, moving back into his seat, crossing his arms over his chest, “I’m sorry if that embarrasses you, but honestly--”
“No. No, that’s not it.”
Lindsay huffed a sigh. “Alright maybe…a little, but really it’s just…I don’t know, Brian, I’m so confused. I just wanted so much for the two of us to take on the art establishment. To make it on our own together, if that makes any sense. God, I could feel it, taste it, all the things you told me, we told each other and now I--”
“And now things change, Lindsay, because now I know what I’m good at. I know. Think this has been easy for me? Being an artist, it’s all I ever wanted, all I ever--”
“I know. I know. Give me a little time alright. You could’ve warned me, you know. I knew you were worried, but--”
“I didn’t want to admit it to myself, let alone to you, but now I have no choice, I needed to change majors before next semester if I’m still going to graduate on time. It’ll be alright, Linds. It will.” He could see that she wasn’t convinced, but knew that eventually she would be because, after all, while the details may have changed, the essence -- the two of them in New York as big fucking successes - remained the same.
“You’ll be just fine, Lindsay. We’ll be just fine, I promise.”
I Have To Let It Go, I Have To_When Even The Essence Changes
Lindsay Peterson & Melanie Marcus’s first apartment in Pittsburgh_1995
“It’s bullshit, Lindsay, and you know it.” Brian said, standing in the middle of her and Melanie’s living room, uncomfortable.
Standing quietly beside him, she said, “It’s not Brian; it’s a wonderful opportu--”
“What was the point then?” he said, glaring at her. “Why’d you bother getting your degree, just so you could throw--?”
“I’m not throwing anything away; it’s only for a couple of years,” she said. “Not forever.”
“Bullshit.” He looked away from her, glaring at Melanie instead who, from her centrally-located position on the couch, just shrugged.
“Brian, I’m serious. Look at me. Mel only needs a couple of more years, then she’s done with law school, you know that. Then I’ll be able--”
“What I don’t get is why this is any of his business anyway,” Melanie said. “This is between you and--”
“Maybe,” Brian said, walking over to her, leaning into her, “because I know better than you what Lindsay--”
“Brian! Enough!” Lindsay said, standing between them. “I know my own mind. Mel and I are in a committed relat--”
“You’ve known each other what, a year? And you’re willing to give up--”
“Melanie needs help finishing law school, we need money, this job is a wonderful opportunity and I’m taking it.”
“You tell him, baby,” Melanie said.
“Melanie, please be quiet. Brian, try to understand.”
“What I understand is that you’re throwing it all away and for what? So you two can play house?” He paced the tiny room made dim by early evening light. “Next thing you know, you’ll want a bunch of little kiddies scampering under foot.”
“There’s plenty of time, Brian, the art world will not cease-to-be if Linds puts her career on hold for a couple of more years. We need to be practical and anyway she can still paint. I mean, do you honestly think I‘d want her--?”
“I know,” he said, “and you can show your paintings with your mom and her friends. She still president of that little art associ--?”
“Brian, stop it,” Lindsay said. “That’s not fair, that’s not what I want and you know it and anyway--”
“Yeah, and anyway who are you to throw stones? Seems you already pulled the ultimate compromise, switching from art to advertising, right Brian? Lindsay’s told me all about your ‘big plans’. So…what happened there? Guess you saw where the quick money was instead, didn’t you?” Melanie said, taking her place beside Lindsay. ”You all happy making your very important career in itty bitty Pittsburgh using sex to sell bullshit crap to homopho--?”
“Melanie, enough. That was completely unnecessary,” Lindsay said, watching him as Brian stood silent in front of the livingroom window, looking out.
“Well, didn’t he? What happened to his big New York dreams? What stopped him other than his very sweet entry level job with Ryder? Cha…ching, right, Brian? Is that just for a couple of years? Oh no…wait; it’s already been a couple of years, hasn’t it? So…now what? You going to quit and then it’s off to New York pursuing your big-city dream of--”
“Shut. Up. Melanie,” Brian said, turning toward her, every muscle tense.
“Well, it’s easy enough when you’ve got money coming in to tell others--”
“Brian made the right decision then, alright? And now, I am.” Lindsay said, walking to him, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Things change, Brian. They changed for you when Ryder offered you the job and you accepted and they changed for me when I met Mel. I have other considerations now and I’d appreciate it if--”
“Absolutely Lindsay, I will absolutely respect your decision,” he said, shrugging her hand away. “You’re right, things have changed. I have to go, Michael’s waiting.”
“Brian?” Lindsay said, hoping he’d be reasonable, hoping he’d stay, but he didn’t.
“Let him run to his little yes-man, Linds. He’ll be fine.” Melanie said, wrapping her arms around her, nuzzling the back of her neck. “Help me with dinner, baby, okay?”
Lindsay moved to the window and now she watched the darkening sky. “I’ll be right there, in a minute, promise.”
“Yeah sure, but not too long, alright?”
“No Mel, not too long.” Lindsay said, more to herself than to Melanie, knowing that soon, when she was ready, she would follow. With Melanie she had begun a new journey with different dreams to be dreamed over candlelight, with different vows to be sworn to, sacred and real.
And, for her anyway, it no longer mattered whether she made her life in Pittsburgh or in New York. For her now, it no longer mattered where, it only mattered with whom. She turned from the window, from the dark outside and followed Melanie into the kitchen, a new life begun.
Knowing Where We Are, Not Where We Dreamt Of Being_Accepting The Boundaries Of Home
Lindsay, Melanie, and Gus’s house in Pittsburgh_Slightly AU 2002
“You really think this is going to make a difference, Linds?” Brian said, standing with her in the just-finished attic space.
“I don’t know…could. It’s worth a try. I have to do something, Brian, I don’t know…something.” She sighed, smoothing her hand over the freshly-painted snow-white surfaces. “And I promise, no watercolors of sand and surf, okay? No hydrangeas and roses painted by-the-number.”
“Damn, and I have just the place in my office for that perfect touch of--”
“I’m sure you do,” she said, “I just…I don’t know, I just think I can work here, can get back on track a little.”
“I know what you can do, Linds,” Brian said, standing before the large and as-yet unchristened easel. “I’ve always known what you’re capable of. It’s just…it’s been seven years.”
“And we’re both still here, aren’t we? Both of us. I have a partner, Brian, and a child and a home and all that that means, all that that represents. The responsibilities, the obligations, the--”
“This is it…Pittsburgh, not--”
“Yes, Brian, Pittsburgh, not New York, alright? And paintings painted in an attic, not in a ‘real’ studio, and shown at the Center, not in a ’real’ Manhattan gallery. Please Brian, we‘ve gone over this so many times.”
“Yes, Brian…and yet. You know I…I still remember what you said when I asked you to be Gus’ father.”
“You mean asked me for my ‘uncredited guest-appearance’?”
“Yes…fine, for your uncredited guest-appearance. Anyway, I remember how you told me I was sealing my fate. And I have. It’s done, alright? It’s done. I will never be a professional artist, I‘m letting the dream go.” She moved to the gable window, the sunlight warming her. “My fate is sealed and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe not what we dreamed about over candlelight at Gino’s Bistro, but enough.”
“Are you sure?”
“We’ve both settled, haven’t we? Are you really where you wanted to be? Where you thought you’d be back when you were that little boy pouring over piles of books at the library dreaming of one day? Of course you aren’t. I don’t know, sometimes…sometimes I think maybe I just didn’t want it enough or…or maybe I was just too scared, afraid of finding out the truth. That I didn’t have what it takes.”
“You did, Lindsay, you do.”
“Truth? I’m not even taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s meager art resources. So now, you tell me, what’s your excuse? You’re still here, so--”
“Leave it alone, woman.”
“Have you left me alone, Brian? Bugging me relentlessly.”
“Hardly relentlessly, Linds--”
“Relentlessly, Brian. And intentionally in front of Mel, just to fuck with her. For years and like it’s all her fault and God knows the two of you don’t have enough other problems. I know it, she knows it, so no…I won’t let it alone.” Leaving the sunlight’s warmth, she stood directly in front of him being, she knew, as confrontational as anyone could be with him. “It has been seven years, so…what’s your excuse?”
He wouldn’t look at her, looking beyond her instead. Time passed and she waited. “I don’t know, maybe…maybe it’s because Pittsburgh’s comfortable, alright? Obviously too comfortable. Confession time? Fine. I thought Ryder was perfect, make some decent money, get some good experience, some quick exposure and then use that to parlay myself into a better job in New York. But getting in with Ryder, that happened too soon, right out of school, made me lazy, not hungry, but safe, comfortable, with something to lose and I shouldn’t have been safe or comfortable, not at 22, not even at 31. I don’t know, it’s like I‘m so…so--”
“So, conventional. At least in your career.”
“Yeah. In my career.” Touching their foreheads together, his eyes closed, Brian said, “Every pat on the back, every award I win only ties me in more. All the praise, the success only digs me in even deeper. When I thought I might actually get that job in New York last year, Lindsay, when that possibility seemed so real, I knew I‘d take it. I‘d take it and run with it. Fuck I wanted it. God, I could taste it. Finally. But when that door slammed shut, when it didn’t happen, it was like my pop all over again, telling me, I wasn‘t good enough, that I never would be, that I‘d--”
“Brian,” she said, looking him right in the eyes, “your dad was full of shit.”
“I’m serious, he was and he’s dead and you need to let him go. Stop using him as your excuse. You’re here because you want to be here, otherwise, you wouldn’t be. Accept it and support me. This may seem like a small thing to you, my little attic studio, but it’s not to me. I want your support, Brian.”
“Just like that, everything all summed up just like that.”
“Yes, just like that. So, what do you say? Support me?”
“Just so long as I don’t also have to support Melanie.”
“Just me and well…Gus.”
“And he’s just such a little gold-digger, Linds, and at what, only two? I fear for the future. So you, uhmmm…you got any beer?” Brian said, moving away from her and toward the stairs.
“Getting a little too hetero for you, daddy?” she said. “Yeah, sure come on, I think there’s some in the fridge.”
“You should get a little fridge up here. Would be more convenient.”
“Maybe I will, thanks for the idea.”
“Not a problem, it‘s what I do.”
“You come up with ideas.”
“I come up with ideas, I solve problems, however I can be of use, Lindsay. You know that‘s all I’ve ever really wanted…to be useful…to be a faithful servant to my fellow man…to do whatever--”
“If I get you that beer, will that shut you up?”
“If that‘s what you want. You know, I am only here to support you in whatever--”
“Yes mommy, I will. If it‘s imported. Domestic and I make no guarantees.” Taking one last look around her little sunlit studio, Brian sighed, smiled a little, and then, he followed Lindsay back downstairs.
Now We Dream Only For Him_Taking Care Of Justin
An Italian bistro in downtown Pittsburgh_Spring 2005
Just before Brian & Justin agree not to marry
“Remind you of anywhere?” Lindsay said with a sweep of her hand as Brian approached the table covered in red and white checks.
“You know I’m fond of Italian bistros, Linds, and you know why so, yeah, it does remind me of Gino’s a little,” he said, taking the seat across from her. “The question is why. Why‘d you ask me to meet you here? We haven’t done this in years.”
She folded and unfolded her hands, obviously nervous. “We need to talk.” She smoothed the wrinkles from the tablecloth, trying and failing to make them disappear.
“Relax.” And placing his hand over hers, Brian said, “Okay, you’ve got my attention so…speak”
“Ahhh, well then, maybe I do know what this is about. Could it have anything to do with our little genius and oh, I don’t know, say…New York?” Brain leaned in close, making her look directly at him. He mimicked, “’Oooh, did you see that very important article about Justin in ArtForum, Briii…an? Isn’t it wonderful?’ Or…or who could ever forget Mel’s delightful, ‘Oooh, look at this painting Justin did for us, Briii…an. What he is giving up just for little ole you.’” Brian moved back. Away. “Please.”
“Shut up. We weren‘t that obvious and, anyway, that thing with Mel really wasn’t her trying to--”
“Did you really think that I’d be too oblivious to figure out--”
“The point was to get you to think--”
“And having that critic…”
“Whoever…show up at Justin’s show. Shit Lindsay.”
“He’s an old friend, Brian. I just thought, well...I just wanted him to see, up close and personal, who Justin is and what he can do. And anyway, it’s not like the two of you were even together then. And if you know so much, then you also know why. Don’t tell me you don’t.” Stroking her fingers back up through her hair, sitting up straighter, she said, “Look, I admit we‘ve been going about this all wrong, coming at you from both sides as we did, but the point was to get you to think and we did, didn’t we? I know we did. What matters now is Justin.”
“You’re using him.” Brian said, sitting even further back, putting even more distance between them. “You’re using him to fulfill your own thwarted dreams of making the big time.”
“And you’re using him,” she said, leaning forward, her forearms resting on the table, closing the distance Brian had put between them, “to justify your own inability to--”
“He makes your life more comfortable, your own personal little squeeze toy--”
“He’s more than that, you know he is.”
“You say you want to marry him, I know you love him--”
“Oh my God, Brian, just stop okay? Just stop. Look. Look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t snap at you, but your total inability to admit about him what everyone else already knows is infuriating and, honestly, just a little boring.”
“Boring? I am never boring and anyway, between you and me? I did tell him, so just--”
“I. Told. Him. Now, please…continue.” This time the sweep of the hand was his.
“Uhmm, I don’t remember where I was? Uhhh…seriously, you--?”
“Seriously. Yes I did. Now, don’t make me sorry I’ve told you.”
“Okay, so now, you have the chance to show just how much you really care about him. Let him go, he won’t fly too far, Brian, Justin loves you, but he needs a chance to spread his wings, to be his own man. At least for a while. He has more talent than I ever had.”
“I don’t believe--”
“I do. And I not only believe it, I know it. Oh God Brian, please understand. I don’t want to see him full of regrets, never really knowing, never really having tried and even if he does fail--”
“Which he won’t.”
“Which he won’t….because?”
“As has been previously established, the boy is a genius.”
“He’s good, Brian, he has a chance, he really does. I’m not saying he wouldn’t be perfectly happy painting away at Britin, like I am in my little attic.”
“Are you? Perfectly happy?” Now Brain also moved forward, leaning his elbows on the table, his head low. When the waiter started to approach their table, Brian waved him away.
“I’m happy, just…well, maybe just not perfectly so, okay? I still dream sometimes, I still wonder what I could have been, who I could have become. I’m content but not truly fulfilled. Not really. There’s…there are regrets. There always will be. Is that what you really want for him? Is that --?”
“What about what he wants?”
“He’s 22, Brian. One way, the way with you, is safe and warm and comfortable, another way, the way without you, is scary and unknown, but--”
“One way he’s comfortable and…conventional, right? While the other way he’s hungry.”
“Yes, Brian. You remember.”
“I remember everything, Lindsay, as you well know. You really think he can do this?”
“I do. Can I tell you something? I’ve been in contact with Simon--”
“I googled him. He‘s important. His opinion matters.”
“His opinion does matter and please don’t tell Mel, but I’ve also been in contact with Sam Auerbach.”
“No shit. Good girl.” He sat back a little looking very pleased.
“I sent him an email sample of a couple of Justin’s most recent works and that, together with what he saw when he was here, has him interested. He thinks Justin has talent--”
“Really? Sam too. Huh?”
“Yes, Brian. And he’s located in New York now.”
“Yes. Isn’t it? Anyway, they’ve both assured me that they’ll take him, just a little, under their wings so--”
“I’m not entirely sure I like the sound of that,” Brian chuckled.
“Straight, Brian, very, very straight. Both of them. They’ll introduce him to some of the right people, get him invited to some of the better openings--”
“He does present well.”
“Yes. Yes he does. He is…presentable. Still, it won’t be easy. Nothing that matters in life ever is; but he’s young and he’s talented and with a little help from friends in the right places, he could do this. They won’t do it for him, they can’t, but they can facilitate things, ease his way a little. So now--”
“Here it comes.” He crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at her with a slight scowl.
“So now…it’s up to you.”
“The other shoe drops.”
“Are you surprised, really? You get him to stay here by giving him everything he could possible want and you know he will, who wouldn’t? Let him decide. Even out the playing-field.”
“But,” Brian said, shifting uncomfortable in his chair, “what…?”
“But what…what?” she said, leaning further in toward him.
“What…what if he changes, grows--?”
“Beyond you? Away from you? You’re Brian-fucking-Kinney, alright? And anyway, maybe…just maybe, instead, he’ll be your inspiration. Maybe all along Justin was meant to be your way to New York. Not…me.” She pulled back from him, hurt by her own sudden realization.
“Yeah, me following his blond-boy ass to New--”
“Not following, joining. You’d be joining his blond-boy ass in New York. Something to think about, anyway.”
“I’ll need to do something.”
“You’ll need to remove the one great huge obstacle you’ve set-up that he can no longer see around?”
“I’m not selling Britin.”
“Not Britin. You know what I mean.”
“No grand gestures this time. You just need to be subtle. But…wait. You can do subtle, can’t you?” Lindsay smiled.
“Are you kidding, subtle is my middle name, just ask anyone.” He chuckled at her quick look of disbelief.
“No, Lindsay and honestly, I’ve been going back and forth on this anyway. Confession time?”
“I’m all ears.”
“After the bombing, all I wanted was to keep him safe. If I gave him everything he seemed to want, me in marriage, a big beautiful home in Britin, then maybe I really could keep him safe. But safe can also be suffocating. I know I need to cut the little birdie loose and watch him fly.”
“Or, like I said before, you could join him in the flight. Some of us will watch, manning the fires back home, but it would be nice if, eventually, at least one of us joined him in the journey.”
“And it would probably be best if that was me.”
“Yeah, probably would be. So, now that that’s settled, are you ready to order? I am starving.”
“Me too, but, where the hell’s our waiter?” Spotting him at the next table, Brian caught his attention, calling him over. “If we don’t order soon, I’m going to be late for my 2:30 meeting, which would be--”
“Relax, Brian, everything’s going to be just fine, promise. You’ll be just fine.”
“How well you know me, Lindsay, how right you are.